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A Stroll At Leisure With God

Rededication

Yesterday, we had a lot of people out on vacation—a sparse crowd. It is just that time of year, but it concerns me. Some people are not on vacation. They are just not there.

A friend who does not attend our church asked me this yesterday: “John, how is the church going? You intimate some things in your blog, but I just want to know.”

My answer to him was, “Yes, we are having our struggles, and I am concerned.” What I didn’t say was, “Just like every other church.” Everyone I talk to is having struggles of one sort or another. It is a difficult time for the church in the United States of America. I could say more about this topic, but I won’t this morning.

As I completed my message and offered an invitation (as I do each week), two sisters came forward—one to ask that we pray for her as she faces a series of medical tests this week. Her name is Vera. The other—Norma—came to “rededicate” her life to the Lord.

First of all, as I sit here this morning, I’m trying to think of the last person who came forward to share a significant spiritual decision with the church. Whoa. It has been a while.

I turn around and say that we have people respond just about every week asking the church to pray for them, as Vera did yesterday, and we had a couple take the first step of membership in our fellowship last Sunday—that is a significant spiritual step.

Anyway, back to what Norma said—the whole concept of “rededication.” Please do not think that I am harping on her this morning. She was very genuine. She has not been coming to our fellowship very long, but from the first Sunday, she told me that she “felt at home” in our church. Of course, I am always glad to hear that.

When she came forward and told me about her rededication, I responded to her as we both stood at the front, “Great Norma, I’m glad you sense the need to grow in your walk with the Lord, but I just want to check something. By using the term “rededication,” are you talking about renewed self-effort or trust in the Lord? Because if you are talking about trying harder, you are setting yourself up for failure.”

Norma assured me that she was talking about renewing her trust in the Lord.

Okay, good.

Over the years, I’ve had plenty experience with the former—renewing one’s efforts to please God. And I’ve seen how many times, not long after this public affirmation of effort, these folks end up in my office saying, “What is going on? I rededicated my life to the Lord and the bottom has fallen out of my life.”

Yeah, right. I think the Lord sees to it. He makes sure that our human efforts fail.

It is easy for me to see this in Norma’s response. I don’t think it is easy when it comes to ME.

When I look at a relatively small group of people on a Sunday (knowing all I know about the time of year and vacations and so forth), I get a little panicky and want to kick in with a lot of self-effort to do SOMETHING. ANYTHING.

But isn’t this response similar to the self-effort “rededication”? Just dressed up a little different because I am a pastor, and it is different for me. Right?

Not.

"Pray for us. We have no doubts about what we’re doing or why, but it’s hard going and we need your prayers. All we care about is living well before God. Pray that we may be together soon. May God, who puts all things together, makes all things whole, Who made a lasting mark through the sacrifice of Jesus, the sacrifice of blood that sealed the eternal covenant, Who led Jesus, our Great Shepherd, up and alive from the dead, Now put you together, provide you with everything you need to please him, Make us into what gives him most pleasure, by means of the sacrifice of Jesus, the Messiah. All glory to Jesus forever and always! Oh, yes, yes, yes." (Hebrews 13:18-21 MSG)

I resonate with these words near the close of the book of Hebrews. Like the writer, I have no doubts about what we are doing and why we are doing it, but it is tough sledding. And we need prayer, for sure.

But I need the Lord to put me together, to provide me with what I need to please Him. I don’t have what it takes. My efforts end up in the trash can.

Lord, bring me to the point where all I care about is living well before you. You can take care of the church. You don’t “need” my efforts. Make me into what gives You the most pleasure.

I do lift up Vera this week. I know she is very concerned about her health issues. Take care of her. I lift up Norma as well. She loves you. As she takes this step of faith, show her what You want her to do, as she trusts you this week.

Help me do the same. “Physician, heal yourself.” Amen.
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"Well-Intentioned Dragons"

Whenever I read the verse I am highlighting in Hebrews today, I always think of a book I read years ago. The author is Marshall Shelley. The title of the book is Well-Intentioned Dragons.

The whole premise of the book is that every church has folks who may have good intentions—in their own mind—but they end up being the pastor’s biggest enemy. They may not start off that way. In fact, Shelley contends that at the beginning, they may appear to be his biggest ally.

I can certainly testify about the veracity of that.

Honestly, as I was sharing with someone the other day, I have become much more guarded than I used to be when it comes to developing close friendships in the church. Some people I continue in friendship with to this very day. Many of them have moved away, and we still correspond.

But, less and less, it seems that I make close friends in the course of ministry at the church. I guess it is just the result of hard lessons I have learned—hard and very painful.

As you read this, you might be thinking, “This is sad, very sad.”

I don’t happen to think so, and here is why: I got convicted about something a few years ago. Sometimes, on a pastor’s part (this pastor in particular), we can make ministry more about meeting my needs rather than serving the flock.

All of us need friends and close relationships. This is the way the Lord built us, but I have discovered that, for me, as a general rule (and I don’t want anyone to think I don’t have close friends in the congregation; I do, just not as many as I used to), I find it is healthier for me to build those friendships OUTSIDE the church. Why? A couple of reasons.

First, can I really be free to share what I really think about what is going on in the church with folks that are members? Well, yes, but it is the exception, not the rule. I’m not talking about gossip. I’m just referring to venting. We all do it, and we all need to do it. There has to be some sort of outlet for both the joys and challenges one faces. My family is outlet number one, of course, but there are others as well—a few in the church, and a few more outside the church. That is the first reason. The second is more significant.

The Lord convicted me of something right about the time I was diagnosed with cancer the first time. Here it is: it is NOT my job to be everyone’s buddy or even try (it is impossible anyway). People in the church do not need another buddy; they need a pastor. Sometimes, there is overlap in those two roles, but at other times, believers need someone who speaks truth (at the risk of the relationship) AND someone who thinks about the congregation as a whole (and not individual interests).

Does this make sense? My job is to care about the church as a whole. Someone has to. Of course, this doesn’t mean that we don’t love and care for individuals, but it is not quite the same as a personal friendship. Therefore, in order to do this, there is a need at times for some “distance.” That is the only word I can think of.

Well, anyway, the verse for today comes at this whole issue from a different standpoint: "Be responsive to your pastoral leaders. Listen to their counsel. They are alert to the condition of your lives and work under the strict supervision of God. Contribute to the joy of their leadership, not its drudgery. Why would you want to make things harder for them?" (Hebrews 13:17 MSG)

I do NOT think this is about reverence for an individual. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. I think it is about respect for the OFFICE of pastor and the realization that pastors work for God. They report directly to Him. Thus, it behooves folks in the church to contribute to a pastor’s joy and make his job easier—again, not because you like the guy or want to be his buddy, but for the good of the church as a whole.

I’ll tell you what. This is going to sound weird. But I look forward to the day, when and if the Lord allows me to live one more day, or past the day I retire, to be a helper for a pastor. Even if I am 90 and can still navigate to any degree (even if it is just to sit for hours and pray), I want to be available to serve in any capacity and be the biggest cheerleader in the church for reaching young folks and worshiping with “contemporary music,” music I don’t “like.”

In other words, I want to be known as the greatest helper some pastor has ever had, again, not out of any kind of hero worship or false allegiance to any man, but out of love for God because of the statement above, “Why would you want to make things harder for them?”

I don’t get it, but I think some people see it as their mission to make things harder for pastors and staff and leaders, to be a burr in their saddle at every turn. Something wrong there, no matter how “well-intentioned” they might be.

Lord, thank You for the greatest job in the world—to serve the church as pastor. I did not choose this role. You chose it for me, Boss. Thank you for holding my feet to the fire and for the short leash you have me on. I need both. Thank you for the wonderful flock you allow me to serve. Every Sunday, as I look out on them, I love them dearly. They don’t have to be there. They choose to show up and serve in hard and difficult circumstances. God, help me to be a better pastor today than I was yesterday. I pray that relationships in our fellowship would honor you. Begin with me. Amen.
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Observation Dome Car and Buckhorn Exchange

As I start this morning, I need to give a shout-out to my cousin because she told me that she actually reads this blog (I’m always amazed that anyone does; thanks again to all of you who might be reading this today): hi Cathy! It was great hanging out with you and Duane yesterday. I hope you both have a great day and a safe trip on Sunday.

So, let me back up and share the story. Yesterday, late afternoon, Marilyn and I took separate cars downtown to spend some time with Duane and Cathy. I say, “separate cars” because Marilyn wanted to see them, but she could not spend a lot of time because my mom did not have a good day yesterday. Our original plan was for the three of us to meet Duane and Cathy, but it was obvious toward the middle of the afternoon that my mom was just not up for it. I offered to be the one to stay home with my mom, but Marilyn felt it best that she do it. She visited for a while and then got in her car to go back home.

Please pray for my mom. Thanks.

Anyway, Duane and Cathy have taken a special train from Los Angeles to Denver. It is a vintage train with restored, passenger cars. Because they were paying customers on this trip, we actually got to go into these cars. One of them was an observation dome car. Baby, baby, baby!

These old passenger cars are privately owned and a company sells space in these “sleepers.” We got to walk through and observe each one—like a “pocket in a shirt,” as my mom likes to say. Duane and Cathy’s “room” is the size of a small bathroom, with a foldout bed and a bunk bed above it. It also has a very small bathroom with a “fold-out” with no drain in the basin. The water drains when one folds the sink back up—how ingenious.

Okay, so I love trains. I always have. I’m an N gauge model train collector. Duane is H O and has a huge set-up in his house. Love it!

We actually got to go and sit in the observation car and had the opportunity to meet a young man (John) and young woman (Julia)—the son of the owner of the car and a “steward” on the train, respectively. John told us that his father bought this passenger car when he was a child, and it took years for him to restore it. Awesome. I was in “hog heaven” as we sat there.

Well, after our tour, Marilyn left to go back home, but Duane and Cathy and I went to my Uncle Bill’s favorite restaurant in Denver. It is called Buckhorn Exchange. I’m a little embarrassed to admit that as long as I have lived here, I have never gone to this restaurant, never even heard of it.

Oh, man. It is a blast from the past—over a hundred years old and a taste of the “wild, wild West.” Tangy, our waitress said, that there are about five hundred animal heads/stuffed critters along with 250 guns in this restaurant. It is crazy.

The menu displays all the “exotic” meats this restaurant has to offer. My meal had two—elk and buffalo. I actually liked elk better. I’ve never eaten elk before.

We had a long and leisurely visit at the restaurant, took a couple of pictures (please see a few on my Facebook page), went downtown, and walked nearly the entire length of the 16
th street mall. It was a beautiful night, and there were a lot of folks and “characters” out and about. Oh, man.

I can honestly say that the three of us got a real taste (pun intended) of Denver culture and the West.

We eventually said our good-byes as I dropped Duane and Cathy off for more walking. I was tired, but it was so good to see them. We started making some plans to get together soon.

Mark this down: I’m taking a ride on that train someday!

Here is the verse for today. It enunciates another “sacrifice” we make as believers in addition to giving thanks. Again, I love how Peterson translates this verse. "Make sure you don’t take things for granted and go slack in working for the common good; share what you have with others. God takes particular pleasure in acts of worship—a different kind of “sacrifice”—that take place in kitchen and workplace and on the streets" (Hebrews 13:16 MSG).

The essence of our walk and relationship with the Lord is NOT displayed in a church building. It is lived out on trains (old and new as well as commuter), in restaurants, and in the streets.

Seeing all those people gave me a renewed burden for the lostness of the town in which I live.

“At the end of broken dreams, people need the Lord.”

Lord, I thank you for Duane and Cathy. It was great to see them. I think of their daughters, Sarah and Mindy and their husbands. Give Mindy a safe pregnancy—Duane and Cathy’s first grandchild. I lift up Aunt Ann, my cousin John and his wife Rose and Grace and Rachel as well as Janet and her husband Robert and Anthony and Ashlynn and Abigail. I love them and lift them up to you. Amen.
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Outside Where the Action Is

Please continue to pray for Mariam Ibrahim. The news came out that she was released once again. Pray for her protection. I don’t think it takes a rocket scientist to know that her life is in danger in Sudan. I hope she can leave the country lawfully to be reunited with her husband and come to the United States.

I’m so glad to be able to take the time slowly to go through these verses in Hebrews. This approach is quite a contrast to the “blast” through the Bible that “The Bible in 90 Days” was. I will return to reading chapters each morning at some point.

Anyway, chapter thirteen is full of exhortations to the persecuted church born out of a contrast between what happened in Judaism and what is available now in Jesus.

Yesterday, we discussed the difference between foods (something that could never, at its best moment) offer true encouragement; only grace in the heart can accomplish this.

From there, the writer moves on to another stark difference between the sacrifices and the Sacrifice. The Tabernacle in the wilderness and later on the Temple in Jerusalem were considered the center for Jewish worship. People came there from all over the nation to offer animal sacrifices. They made this pilgrimage at least once a year. It was a rather cumbersome system to say the least, especially because the offering of these animals actually did nothing to cleanse the worshiper. Hebrews is clear about that.

Coincidentally, I think it was interesting that even before the Temple was destroyed in A. D. 70, the synagogue system began to emerge in the Inter-Testamental period. It made worship more accessible on a local level, but it did away with the sacrificial system.

Be that as it may, the writer to Hebrews establishes another contrast. In point of fact, Jesus, the once-for-all sacrifice, was crucified OUTSIDE the gates of the city. Peterson brings out this fact in his translation:

"So let’s go outside, where Jesus is, where the action is—not trying to be privileged insiders, but taking our share in the abuse of Jesus. This “insider world” is not our home. We have our eyes peeled for the City about to come. Let’s take our place outside with Jesus, no longer pouring out the sacrificial blood of animals but pouring out sacrificial praises from our lips to God in Jesus’ name" (Hebrews 13:13-15 MSG).

There are a lot of significant facts in this contrast. First, the fact that Jesus was crucified “outside” means that we are “out there” with him. We are not longer tied to the “insider world” of Jewish sacrifice.

Second, it means that we share in His sufferings. The more I think about my situation, I have to classify it as suffering for the cause of Christ, just as Paul did, just as Mariam is. Of course, I do not claim that I am going through anything near as difficult as they did/are.

But we all tend to discount what the Lord is doing in our lives … I have a friend who is in transition as he looks for a ministry position. There is another brother in the church who is dealing with satanic attack on a consistent basis. I could go on and on. Are these “less” significant? Well, not really. No.

Third, the Temple in Jerusalem is not our home. Good thing—because it is gone. And, even if a literal temple gets rebuilt as some prophecy pundits say will happen (this is debatable), it will still not be the permanent home of believers. We have a City that is to come.

I’m ready—TODAY.

Fourth, instead of offering sacrifices as the folks did in the “insider system,” we offer the sacrifice of praise, “the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” This is our new lifestyle.

Lord, when all is said and done, I praise You this morning. “I worship You, Almighty God, there is none like you. I worship You, O King of Kings, that is what I want to do … “ Spirit of God, fill me full so that I might bear the fruit of your character today and my lips would bear the fruit of thanksgiving. Protect Mariam and her children. I lift up the two brothers I have mentioned and others … Amen.
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A Heart, Strengthened by Grace

I really do gravitate toward a statement in the verse for today. I identify it as a need in my life:

"Do not be carried away by varied and strange teachings; for it is good for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by foods, through which those who were so occupied were not benefited" (Hebrews 13:9 NASB).

What are the “varied and strange teachings” about which the writer refers? I’m certainly no expert at this point, but I would surmise that this reference has something to do with the Jewish ritual sacrifices. The next couple of verses in this chapter seem to bear this out.

Whatever this phrase means, it makes no sense to believe that something I could put in my mouth would have anything to do with my heart (not the organ) as the seat of my mind, will, and emotions. But I am not a Jew, and so I am sure I don’t understand how the average Jewish worshiper understood the sacrificial system.

Be that as it may, one has to keep in mind as he or she reads the book of Hebrews that this book was written to encourage believers to keep on keeping on in the face of persecution and difficulty.

I have to believe that in THAT setting, because I know my own experience, that a “strengthened heart” is a high priority.

It certainly is for me these days.

I’m honestly still struggling a bit with my visit to the doctor yesterday. One of the things I’ve always wrestled with (this is kind of embarrassing to share) is moving forward while at the same time dealing with unresolved issues.

This is as silly as: if I lose a sock, I have to keep looking for it until I find it. Or, if I leave my Ipad at church, I know I will worry about it, so it is best just to jump in the car and go to church to retrieve it. When I lived ten minutes from the church, I found myself doing this type of thing a lot for various reasons, but (it is kind of embarrassing to say this) now that I live on the other end of town from the church, I find myself doing it way more often than I would wish.

My mom and sister know this about me, and now, they don’t even try to talk me out of getting back on I-25 (this highway is always a nightmare no matter when one drives on it) and driving up to Northglenn to get something and turning right around to come back.

This is ridiculous. I know.

But I am convinced today that THIS is one of those “rough edges” that the Lord is knocking off.

Cancer is just one big, HUGE unresolved issue, with no way to drive anywhere just to settle it.

I guess I feel a little bit better if I receive a report that my cancer is diminishing, but to hear that it is status quo … what does that mean, really?

Yesterday, Dr. Jotte looked at me and said, “John, also the worst thing in the world would not be if it just maintained itself as it is right now, would it?” I did not answer him, but given what I have just shared, I don’t know … I would say it is the worst thing.

I just want it to be gone, but I fear that my particular form of cancer will be something I will just have to live with, even if it goes into remission here and there at times … I think that is what I am in for.

Anyway, today, I am in a position to test this statement that the writer makes—a heart strengthened BY GRACE.

What occurs to me is that Paul was a living and breathing example of this. He had some sort of illness and malady, and he prayed three times (probably 333 times) for the Lord just to take it away, and the Lord didn’t. He left things unresolved. Instead, God gave him grace, “My grace is sufficient for you” (2 Corinthians 12:9a).

I’ve preached so many sermons from this passage. I guess right now I am in a position to test what I preached. Do I really believe this? We are about to find out.

Here is the deal: I feel great today. I really do. Much better than many who deal with the ultimate “unresolved issue.” My main problem is worry. My problem is my head and heart, not cancer. It is the nagging thought …

Lord, I trust you with this “sock” and “Ipad.” Teach me. Help me. I want to learn and appropriate a “heart strengthened by grace.” Amen.
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Follow-up

Follow-Up

Now, before I get into this today, I want to say first of all that I think Sports Camp was awesome. The group from Oklahoma did a great job in helping us. We were able to minister to 42 boys and girls total for the week. That number is way beyond anything that we expected, for sure.

As Calla and I were visiting about things one day, she said, “You don’t have these kinds of events to add 30 or 40 families to your church. It is just to plant seeds and trust God from there.” I didn’t quote her exactly, but that is the gist of what she said.

I agree. In fact, I think her statement applies to most if not all of what we do in ministry. We serve and leave the “results” to God.

The truth is that for the first time in as long as I can remember, a family did show up at church last Sunday. A boy who came to camp brought them. I met the whole family before the service—the dad, the mom, and the younger sister. They told me they did not have a church, but because of Clayton’s experience, they wanted to come and learn.

I am so thankful for this. I just pray that we can continue to minister to them.

Anyway, all of that is awesome, and as you are reading, you might be saying, “So, John, what is the problem?”

Well, as I tried to make contact with the other families at the camp, I got a little discouraged because I wasn’t able actually to visit with anyone last night as I made phone calls. For some families, all we had was an email address because they signed up online. (Of course, I did receive a reply this morning from one family who I know goes to another church. The mom thanked me and said that her daughter thoroughly enjoyed herself and would like to come to any future event we have—not bad, huh?).

As I sit here and ponder what was REALLY going on yesterday, I don’t think it had to do with Sports Camp but with a book I have been reading the past couple of days,
Autopsy of a Deceased Church, by Thom Rainer. This is an excellent book.

As a matter of fact, after my family and I left the hospital after my CT scan yesterday, I directed them to stop by a bookstore so that I could purchase multiple copies of this book to hand out at church. I’m giving one to each staff person. I’m thinking of others as well.

This book sounds as if it would be extremely depressing. It is not, but it is sobering. I will use that word. It has served as a wake-up call for me. I hope it plays that role for others.

The message hits close to home: we do have to get people in the church, somehow, some way! That’s crass. I’m sorry. And it may even sound a little selfish or self-serving. But this has to happen soon, or we are headed to the graveyard.

Back to last night, in spite of everything I have said, I guess I was discouraged because I would like to see a visible harvest every once in a while. I would like to see families added to the church. I would settle for a number less than 30 or 40. Ha. How about that?

In a church where my family and I served years ago, it almost died. I think it was down to just a few people. Now, it is booming with multiple services and literally hundreds of folks.

Of course, the pastor is now a rock star. He gets lauded in meetings, and people ask him to share “the secret” of what is going on, as if he is some sort of expect. This is very dangerous to do to pastors. I wish we wouldn’t do it, but we are like quarterbacks in football. A few years ago, a former coach of the Broncos made this statement, “Quarterbacks get too much credit if the team wins, and too much blame if they lose.”

Anyway, the current pastor seems like a good enough guy. I don’t want to knock him. But the last time I heard him speak, he said, “All we are doing is loving people and teaching the Word.”

Come on! Aren’t the rest of us doing that?

I’ll tell you what is happening. I wish someone, somewhere would have the broader view to see it. What is REALLY going on is that the people who are there now are reaping the harvest of all the seeds of ministry that dedicated believers who served in tough times with no “results” actually sowed for years and years. God just decided that it was harvest time. That’s what I believe.

That’s what I long to see someday—not the numbers part—but just to see God show up in power and do His thing.

As a pastor friend of mine says often, “God is never the problem; we are always the problem.” I believe that, but maybe just for some, their role is to plant a lot of seed.

Who knows? If anyone can figure any of this out, please tell me.

What I know is that we are just servants. “We” includes pastors. Even though the verses for today give an exhortation about how leaders are to be respected, the main focus needs to be on the One who doesn’t change: "Appreciate your pastoral leaders who gave you the Word of God. Take a good look at the way they live, and let their faithfulness instruct you, as well as their truthfulness. There should be a consistency that runs through us all. For Jesus doesn’t change—yesterday, today, tomorrow, he’s always totally himself" (Hebrews 13:7, 8 MSG).

Lord, thank you for everything you did last week and continue to do. In spite of Thom’s book, I just give you the church I serve. Thank you for letting us serve You and minister. When everything is said and done, I just want to be a faithful servant—to honor You and follow You and share the Word. Whatever you want to do with it is fine.

I thank you for what you are doing in other congregations. I do not begrudge it one bit. Just keep me and other pastors from getting the big head when things are “going well” (whatever that means—usually numbers) or the “small head” (is that the opposite of big head???) when we don’t see the kind of visible results we hope for. Whatever. You don’t change and for that, I am grateful. Be totally yourself in me today. Amen.
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Mariam and the Sanctity of Marriage

Yesterday, I mentioned Mariam Ibrahim. A brother in the church sent me a text that she had been released! We praise God for this. Here is one article of many that talks about her release and her situation now:

www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/apostasy-woman-meriam-ibrahim-freed-after-sudanese-court-orders-release-state-media-report-9557086.html.

Obviously, she is not out of the woods. We need to continue to pray for her safety. Many are concerned that someone will try to kill her.

One news reporter last night said that the ideal situation is that she could come to the United States. With all the illegal immigrants flooding our country now, it would seem to be very doable, but who knows?

Please continue to pray for her along with Saeed and believers in Myanmar and other persecuted Christians. This is a very prominent exhortation in Hebrews 13.

The next in line has to do with the sanctity of marriage. “Sanctity” is a term that we use often. Webster defines it as the “state or quality of being holy.” In other words, marriage is special and what God has designed to occur there—sexual intimacy between a man and woman—ought to stay there.

This is a very timely command again in light of what I am studying in 1 Corinthians. Next Sunday, in my series entitled “Christian Idols,” from 1 Corinthians, sexual purity is a huge topic in this section of the book.

For professing Christians to live a lifestyle of sexual promiscuity, they are bringing disgrace upon the testimony of the church. It is a serious deal.

But beyond that, all sexual deviance is serious because it is a denial of God’s ownership of our bodies. He designed us to honor God with our bodies.

Anyway, those are two prominent truths from those two chapters in 1 Corinthians, but I want to get back to Hebrews 13:4. Here is the verse: "Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4 NASB).

A couple of things about this verse—marriage (as God defines it) is certainly NOT held in honor among all—that is for sure. I would say that the honoring of marriage is at an all-time low in our culture and is one of our biggest problems as a nation.

Sex is a wonderful gift from God that he designed to take place in the marriage context and there alone, but that is also something that is patently NOT occurring.

In addition, the somber truth of this verse is that God punishes folks who do not hold to his standards in this regard. 1 Corinthians 6 echoes this fact as well. And puts sexual sin in a special category. I’m paraphrasing here: the immoral person sins against his or her body.

What to do with these truths? I am asking God about this as I sit here this morning with plenty of thoughts racing through my mind.

I believe that, more than ever, the church needs to teach about and focus on the “sanctity” of marriage. Honestly, where else in our culture will this occur if we don’t do it? It used to be that government and culture as a whole honored it. Now, that just isn’t true.

But beyond this, I’m frankly a little at a loss. The reason I say this is because many young people (former active members of our youth ministry) are coming to mind at this point. Many of them (not all), when they graduated, dropped out of church and moved in (eventually) with a boyfriend or girlfriend.

Of course, we could have done a better job, but at least once a year, we taught God’s standards for sexuality with programs such as “True Love Waits.”

Many of these students came from families where God’s standards were upheld.

I don’t get it … I do believe that the pressure in our culture to be “in a relationship” (and this means sex, most of the time) is great. This does not excuse anyone, but it is a huge reality.

Lord, thank you for Mariam’s release. Protect her and her babies. I thank you for the institution of marriage as You designed it. What a great idea, Lord. Give those of us in the church the courage to continue to uphold Your standard and teach our children. I confess deep discouragement about this even as I write these words. I’m not going to name names, but I lift up the young people you bring to mind at this point—one in particular RIGHT NOW. Amen.
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The Persecuted Church and "Repeat After Me"

In our prayer study, Jeremy did another excellent job in his teaching yesterday. Among all the very good things he taught us, two stand out in my mind this morning.

First, he urged us to keep in touch with the persecuted church, specifically in Myanmar (or Burma). Take time to search for “religious persecution in Burma.” You will discover that Christians are speaking out there against a “Religious Conversion Law” that states that the government must approve before any converts to another religion outside Buddhism or marries outside Buddhism.

Jeremy told us that the government monitors every religious group—officials are actually sitting in church services. One misstep and it is a problem.

Can you imagine?

I think we need this type of reality check quite often.

In the verse for today, the scriptures echo this concern:

"Remember the prisoners, as though in prison with them, and those who are ill-treated, since you yourselves also are in the body" (Hebrews 13:3 NASB). As I read this verse from the NASB, I asked the question, “What does the last phrase mean?” Is he talking about the body of Christ or the human body?

The Amplified Bible translation helps me at this point:

"Remember those who are in prison as if you were their fellow prisoner, and those who are ill-treated, since you also are liable to bodily sufferings" (Hebrews 13:3 AMP). We do suffer here in the States but not to the degree that other believers do across the world … yet. But I think the day is coming.

In the meantime, join me in praying for believers in Myanmar, for Miriam Ibrahim, and Saeed Abedini.

Second, Jeremy made a profound comment about prayer. I don’t have my study guide with me to give the exact context in his study, but here is what he said: “When I tell my son to do something, I think he hears me and knows what I am asking, but the main way I know that he gets it is that I ask him to repeat what I told him. This is the essence of prayer.”

Wow.

Let me unpack that statement for a moment. Prayer begins with God. He initiates our relationship with Him in the first place. He places His Holy Spirit in us that prays for us when we don’t have the words. This is the essence of CONFESSION. The Greek word is “homo-logeo” meaning literally, “say the same thing.” It is a much broader concept than just confessing sin. I believe it encompasses our witness life (of course) but also our prayer life. And it completes the circle, so to speak.

God initiates prayer. He literally gives us the words and enables us to pray them and they go right back to the One who started things in the first place.

How does God know that we “get it”? We confess to Him—we pray the same thing back to Him that He told us in the first place. Isn’t this what praying according to God’s will is all about? Isn’t this the essence of praying “in Jesus’ name”?

In other words, prayer (like everything else in the Christian life) is NOT about me first of all. It is about God and His glory.

Lord, this morning, may my prayer life be a reflection, an exact reflection, of what You say and what You want. Line me up with You right now. I lift up the persecuted believers in Myanmar. I pray for the prisoners … as I sit here in the early morning stillness in complete freedom, … Oh, Lord … Amen.
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No Indifferent Bystander

I just can’t get over Peterson’s translation of the last two verses of Hebrews 12. I want to come back to them in a moment.

Well, all the energy I expended this past week ran out yesterday. I want to be clear here. This was not cancer fatigue. I was just worn out. And I could barely navigate for most of the day. Every time I sat down, I just wanted to sleep. And that was a bit problematic because I had a lot of sermon work to do, not only on the message for today, but also next Sunday. I am way behind on it as well.

This is what happens on a week like we just had—I miss out on my sermon preparation time. And frankly, it always makes me a bit nervous. I hate feeling unprepared, but a few years ago, the Holy Spirit helped me with this. As I was stressing after a week of Vacation Bible School, I was scrambling to cobble a sermon together and somehow, the Holy Spirit said, “John, relax, trust me. I am preparing you to preach, and this week, the preparation is being with the boys and girls.”

Interesting take, huh? Of course, one can carry this too far, such as: I am just going to hang out with my family and not study at all and trust the Holy Spirit to give me the words as I step up to preach. Nope. But this was the Lord’s way of showing me that He, not my usual preparation routine, was in charge of my preaching.

So, now, even though I stress a bit, I just try to take it in stride, do the best I can by God’s grace, in the time I have, and trust Him from there.

Back to the final couple of verses of Hebrews 12—this exhortation to worship could not have come at a more opportune time. This morning, I am starting a new series of sermons from 1 Corinthians. Has there ever been a church that gave Paul more problems to deal with than that of Corinth? In his first letter to this church, he deals with one issue after another, but there is a common theme in this book.

As he deals with the challenges in the church, he always comes back to the heart of the matter—the worship of God. This church did not get this right. Why? Because they lapsed into idolatry on several fronts.

I don’t want to preach my sermon at this point, but the title of the series I am preaching is “Christian Idolatry.” I do believe that we are in danger at times as individuals and churches to get our focus wrong and to lapse into idolatry. Of course, a lifestyle of idolatry is characteristic of someone who does not believe in Jesus, but LAPSING into false worship at times is a danger in the Christian life.

Anyway, this is a negative challenge of sorts—DON’T worship false gods. The command at the end of Hebrews 12 is positive—DO BE CHOCKFUL OF WORSHIP. Bad grammar, good theology. Why?

Let me go back to Peterson’s translation: “For God is not an indifferent bystander.” This phrase has captured my attention today.

God cares about all the details of my life. The final Day of Judgment bears this out. Typically, this is perceived as something that is negative. But the writer to Hebrews casts this in a different light.

Remember that this book was written as a word of encouragement to believers who are being persecuted and tempted to drop out of church and punt the whole thing.

These final two verses are the Holy Spirit’s way of saying, “Hang in there. Nothing can shake you here and now and in eternity. Continue to worship God and don’t stop. He is actively and intimately involved. He knows what is going on. He cares. Stay with the stuff.”

Every step of the way, every twist and turn of life’s path—I can call out to our God! He is not standing way off on the balcony of the universe watching the clock unwind, as the deists believe.

We have an expression, “The devil is in the details.” Here is my counter to that: God is in the details and He is in charge of the details.

I hang my hat on THAT today, Lord. I am interested to see how the sermon is going to go today as a result. Thanks, Jesus.

I also pray for the Prayer Study this morning, week two. Speak and lead through Jeremy. Teach us to pray. Compel us to pray. Amen.
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Unshakeable Worship

I will get to the verses for today in a moment, but yesterday, I finally had the opportunity to catch my breath a bit. I know that I have already alluded to this in a previous post, but these past three and two-thirds months have been a whirlwind—the most intense period of ministry in my whole life.

That sounds strange to say, but it is true.

It started in early March as I prepared to go to India as I found out that my cancer had returned. Then, when I got back from the trip, we faced some huge challenges at church as I realized that I had to start from scratch to write a year’s worth of daily devotionals.

I finished that book on May 31
st only to jump into preparations for a couple of weeks of intense ministry with Ken and Glennes followed by the Sports Camp with the group from Eastern Hills. That concluded June 19th.

Take a deep breath. I have to. I realize more than ever before the absolute need for a break. And I am going to take some time today to think about it and actually plan a vacation. I know that sounds crazy, but usually my vacations are on the fly—a day or two here and there almost as an afterthought, but not this time.

I still have much to do at church with follow-up and some other ministry opportunities we are pursuing but again … a break.

Please pray for me in this regard. I can see if I am not very intentional about it that I will just drift on.

In the meantime, I am starting a new series of sermons tomorrow. As I have been preparing, my focus has been on worship—the primary fundamental of the Christian life and the church.

I cannot help but think that the final verses of chapter twelve of Hebrews are very significant. In fact, I think this is the culminating appeal of the whole book. Chapter thirteen has some practical exhortations (looking ahead a bit), but the destination of all the teaching of the book has moved to these final appeals.

We have not received a kingdom that can be shaken (as that of Mt. Sinai was). Someday, everything will be shaken on the Day of Judgment, but we will not. The kingdom we receive (the Mt. Zion kingdom) will persist forever.

In short, no matter what shakes, we won’t.

What an amazing truth—the more I think about it. Our world is constantly in a state of flux and change—some much so that it is difficult to keep up with it. And it is very unsettling—the weather changes; emotions fluctuate; people come and go; nations battle nations; people get sick and die; cataclysmic events such as earthquakes and tornados and hurricanes occur; et cetera.

Everything changes all the time!

But two things don’t: our God and those who of us who have received the unshakeable kingdom.

What is our response to this? What should be our response? WORSHIP!

"Do you see what we’ve got? An unshakable kingdom! And do you see how thankful we must be? Not only thankful, but brimming with worship, deeply reverent before God. For God is not an indifferent bystander. He’s actively cleaning house, torching all that needs to burn, and he won’t quit until it’s all cleansed. God himself is Fire!" (Hebrews 12:28, 29 MSG)

There is so much to unpack in those verses. I need a day or two to chew on these words as Peterson translates them. The Amplified Bible cites a couple of significant cross-reference passages. I’m going to ponder them as well …

But we must be thankful and “brimming with worship.” The word “brimming” is an interesting word. Here are some synonyms I found in Webster: bursting, chockfull, crammed, crowded, fat, filled, jammed, loaded, packed, and stuffed.

These words remind me of how I feel after I eat too much, but I don’t think the sense is exactly the same. All I want to do after a big meal is sit. Brimming with worship—stuffed with worship—is an impetus for everything in every part of every day.

Worship is not relegated to something I do in a church building once a week if it is convenient. It is life and everything. Or it should be.

Lord, as I ponder these verses today, teach me what it means to worship. Let today be chockfull and fat with worship. Amen.
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The Group from Claremore

The Group From Claremore

After lunch at a local Mexican restaurant, Calla and I said our goodbyes to the group from Eastern Hills Baptist Church in Claremore, Oklahoma.

As I sit here this morning, I think I am still a little too close to what happened in the week to give a proper evaluation, but my bottom-line opinion is that they served Jesus with distinction.

Let me back up a bit: they were originally planning to go to help Community of Faith in Broomfield, but when the church basically folded, they were on the lookout for another opportunity and called us.

At the time they called, we were praying about what the Lord wanted us to do as an outreach activity. This is when the whole concept of a sports camp was born.

We certainly could not have pulled this off without this group.

Things have changed so dramatically since I started at the church back in 1989—from several standpoints. We just don’t have the folks to staff a daytime ministry. We did have several ladies from our church that helped with refreshments and did an awesome job of it. Thanks Gladys, Imelda, Susan, and Marilyn!

But as far as the ministry aspect of this event, we needed help and this group certainly provided it—BIG TIME.

As we talked with them originally, they were looking at bringing about twenty folks. As it turned out, the number was seven, but it was just right. I think twenty folks would have been way too many for what we needed.

I know they were a little discouraged by the number that ended up coming. I can certainly understand why. But they did not act like it. They jumped in and went to work.

We worked them hard. After running around with about forty kids each morning, we took them out into the community to do five service projects. The last day, the whole group went to one house… I’ve already talked about that in yesterday’s post.

So, anyway, I thank the Lord for them.

Here are some of the things I noticed about them. Pastor Phil and his wife Sharon have a great marriage. They love each other but they also like each other. It is very obvious. That was so wonderful to see. Their daughter Amy is an awesome young woman. A quality family.

I’m impressed with the youth pastor—Austin. He is only twenty-three, but he is very mature. We had a great conversation as we headed over to help Chuck and Belle—a senior couple in our church—late yesterday afternoon. He climbed up on their roof and fixed a problem they were having in two shakes—no pun intended.

Ryan, “the driver,” ended up being a lot more than that. He related to the boys and girls so well. One thing he did with a little girl named Haley was that he would look at her and say, “Give me your mean face.” She loved it. As it turned out, when Calla asked the boys and girls to tell her the sport they enjoyed the most for the day, invariably, it was the one Ryan led. He has a gift, truly.

I was also impressed with Chloe and Dakota—the other two students who came. Chloe was a kid magnet. All the girls loved her. Most of the time they were sitting in her lap or walking along with her. She genuine loved them. Children know this.

Dakota, a ninth grader, got right into the mix with the boys and girls and worked hard at each project. He loves sports and I got to tap into his knowledge a bit yesterday. He hugged me as we left and thanked me for a great week.

I don’t know … I can’t say enough about them. But I will say more—count on it.

Anyway, I’m glad that I will be standing with them, arm and arm someday, on the day the writer to Hebrews talks about, when everyone on this planet that does not know Jesus, will be scared out of their wits. Those of us who know Jesus will be ready, but in the meantime, we better get cracking:

"So don’t turn a deaf ear to these gracious words. If those who ignored earthly warnings didn’t get away with it, what will happen to us if we turn our backs on heavenly warnings? His voice that time shook the earth to its foundations; this time—he’s told us this quite plainly—he’ll also rock the heavens: “One last shaking, from top to bottom, stem to stern.” The phrase “one last shaking” means a thorough housecleaning, getting rid of all the historical and religious junk so that the unshakable essentials stand clear and uncluttered" (Hebrews 12:25-27 MSG).

I am energized to follow-up with all the boys and girls and families we met this past week. We will see how the Lord wants to use us.

Lord, I am deeply grateful for our new friends from Claremore. Bless them and keep them safe as they drive back to Oklahoma today. I’m grateful that you promised that the seeds of the Word You planted will not return void. Amen.
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Water Fight and New Charter

Well, I have to get moving this morning. So much to do in the next couple of hours …

Yesterday was another great day with the boys and girls in the morning and in ministry in the afternoon.

The first two afternoons, we split up the group to go to two separate houses to minister to folks, but yesterday, we all went to one house, and I can see why Linda at the Senior Hub sent us all there—a ton (and I mean literally) of work. It was the seven folks from Oklahoma, Tom, Calla, her two kids, and myself—12 people working like dogs.

Silvia* the homeowner was so grateful. She has not been able to take care of her yard because her mother has Alzheimer’s.

We worked hard but the clock caught up with us. I told Silvia that I would bring some folks back from the church to do more work. I hope I can find some. There is still a lot to do, and I feel that we need to be committed to finish the job we started.

Sharon, Pastor Phil’s wife, was able to share with Silvia. I just pray that we get another chance. She has a church, but we are not sure about where she is spiritually.

Anyway, if you want to get an idea of the day, last night, all of us were so tired we could barely keep our eyes open. I was glad I was teaching or I would have dropped off to sleep.

I’m tired today, but I don’t feel anything like I did the other day. I think a lot of it is adrenaline—the final day. I am doing the teaching part today. Plus, we are having a water fight with the children as the final hurrah. Calla was careful to tell the boys and girls to have their parents pick them up in the back parking lot today when we conclude. I bet you can guess why …

The passage for today is significant in the book of Hebrews as another significant encouragement. The writer talks about life in the nation of Israel as it relates to Mount Sinai—an important time and legacy for the Jews. This sets up a contrast:

"No, that’s not your experience at all. You’ve come to Mount Zion, the city where the living God resides. The invisible Jerusalem is populated by throngs of festive angels and Christian citizens. It is the city where God is Judge, with judgments that make us just. You’ve come to Jesus, who presents us with a new covenant, a fresh charter from God. He is the Mediator of this covenant. The murder of Jesus, unlike Abel’s—a homicide that cried out for vengeance—became a proclamation of grace" (Hebrews 12:22-24 MSG).
Our frame of reference as believers is Mount Zion, not Mount Sinai. This is not to say that we push aside the Law of God; it is just that now we live under the new covenant of the blood of Jesus who enables us to obey the Law and, here is the phrase that strikes me, gives us a “fresh charter” from God.

A charter, according to Webster, “is a document issued by a government that gives rights to a person or a group.” The Law condemned us because we can never obey it; the new covenant is a charter that saves us from sin and gives us the right to go home someday. Praise God!

Lord, I pray for these boys and girls as well as Silvia. I pray that every single one of them would repent and trust you and your new charter in Christ. Plus, Lord, enable us all to survive this water fight today. Oh, boy. Amen.
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Esau Syndrome

What an interesting phrase in the passage for today, but first, I want to share a little bit about yesterday.

We had a few more children on day 2 than we had on day 1. That is always a good sign. I believe the boys and girls are having a good time. Yesterday, the two sports were football and “futball.” I was appointed to teach soccer and glad to do so.

I remember the day in seventh grade where I made the decision to play soccer instead of football. It was the first day of school. We went to the gym. Mr. Preiser said, “All right, make your choice so that we can give you your equipment right now.” For football, there were pads and jerseys and helmets. For soccer—shorts and socks, if my memory serves. I just decided to play soccer because I didn’t want to get injured. Somehow, that was my rationale. Kind of crazy.

But from day one, our coaches ran us into the ground until we could barely stand up, and I wondered, “What on earth is going on here? I want to kick the ball and play the game.”

My ninth grade team was the best soccer team I ever played on. Tuck Ganzenmueller was our coach. One of his favorite expressions was, “Men, if it doesn’t hurt, you are not getting in shape.”

Prior to the start of soccer season, I remember that I got up a little earlier each morning and ran out the front door of our house and down the block a little ways. Then, I turned around and sprinted back to the house, only to sit down at the breakfast table and eat Fruit Loops cereal. Ha.

Not sure I gained a whole lot out of that workout regimen, but I THOUGHT I was in shape.

We had a great season and won the Front Range League Championship. In the final game, we were down 3-0 to Colorado Academy, and came back to tie them to maintain our undefeated season.

Yesterday, I tried to recall the drills we worked on in Junior High and High School and “faked it” again with the children.

Afterwards, we had lunch with the Oklahoma group as we prepared to go to two more houses. Someone said, “John, why don’t you sit this out this afternoon. We will go.” Calla repeated that to me, “Go home.”

They saw something about my demeanor that I didn’t fully realize. They headed out for the work. I stayed at the office a bit longer, but suddenly I felt this precipitous drop in energy. It seemed to cascade downward rapidly. I haven’t had this experience for months, but for the rest of the afternoon and evening, I could barely navigate. I just sat there, dozing off to sleep frequently until I just gave up and went to bed.

I’m better today. People were praying for me, and I deeply appreciate the encouragement Calla and the group from Oklahoma gave me to go home. They obviously saw something that I didn’t realize until later. I’m thankful for them, thankful for the community.

The verses in the latter portion of chapter 12 of Hebrews deal with the community.

"Work at getting along with each other and with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse of God. Make sure no one gets left out of God’s generosity. Keep a sharp eye out for weeds of bitter discontent. A thistle or two gone to seed can ruin a whole garden in no time. Watch out for the Esau syndrome: trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite. You well know how Esau later regretted that impulsive act and wanted God’s blessing—but by then it was too late, tears or no tears" (Hebrews 12:14-17 MSG).

The phrase that stands out today is the “Esau Syndrome.” And the writer defines it as “trading away God’s lifelong gift in order to satisfy a short-term appetite.”

I cannot tell you how often I see this among Christians and pastors. Right now, there is a young lady in our church who has made the decision to move in with her boyfriend and his family. They are both in their late teens. My heart grieves for her. She is making lifetime decisions right now. She has so many years ahead of her …

I’m thinking of a good friend from seminary. He was a rising star in Southwestern Seminary circles. He and I played a lot of golf together when we were in seminary. In fact, we won the seminary scramble at Pecan Valley one year.

Anyway, he decided to have an affair, and the woman he was with exposed it all, and my friend lost his job and faded away. I still don’t know what happened to him or where he is right now.

But I think of these two examples of the “Esau Syndrome.” I wonder if, down the road, you could interview these two people (this young woman is still in the midst of making her bad, long-term decision) and ask them, “Was it worth it?” I’m sure they would both weep like Esau, but like his situation, it is too late.

Oh, Lord, I pray for myself and for my readers and for these kids at Sports Camp this week—help us all to avoid the Esau Syndrome at all costs. Thank you for the way people encouraged me yesterday. I’m deeply grateful. Thank you for the return of strength I feel sitting here right now. Amen.

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An Ag Man

An Ag Man

I will have to say that as I sit here this morning, I am beat. We had 34 kids yesterday morning in sports camp. I had the responsibility of running the basketball camp.

It wasn’t difficult for me to hearken back to my days as a player and as a coach. I played basketball all the way through High School, and when I was in college, I coached our church team. Oh, and one more thing, I coached a couple of teams at the YMCA down the street from the church for a few years as well.

As a matter of fact, I still keep in touch with one family I met at the Y. Their son is now grown up. He is an outstanding young man, no thanks to his coach.

All of this sounds as if I am some sort of “expert.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I just fake it very well.

My goal was to wear the children out. I gave them drills. I had them run. With the older kids, we actually played some five on five and four on four. All in all, it was a good day.

After lunch, we headed out to two homes for our afternoon service projects. I led the Oklahoma group to one home in an area called “Old Thornton.” When we arrived, we met the lady of the house. She was thrilled to see us. She actually said that she had visited the church in 1988, “but I didn’t see you there.”

I replied, “No ma’am. I came in 1989.”

“Well,” she answered, “I might just try it again.”

“Great. We would love to have you.”

We dropped off part of the group at this house, turned, and headed back up Washington Street to another home north of the church building. The owner of the second home, Floyd, greeted us warmly. He had a couple of things he needed us to do: trim several bushes, weed an area, and wash his windows.

Austin, the youth pastor, and I started on some of the bushes. I had a small handsaw. Austin had a pair of trimming shears.

At one point, shortly after we started, Austin very graciously said, “Um, Pastor John, you just kind of trim around the edges like this,” and he snipped here and there and cut a larger branch now again.

I feel so bad about this, but I really hacked up a bush very badly with a saw.

As Austin was showing me how to trim, I said, “Thanks a lot, brother. I’m kind of embarrassed to tell you this, but I have never done this before.”

Austin was quick to reply, “Oh, no problem. I was a state ag champion in Oklahoma. I’ve had a lot of experience.” There was no hint of bragging in what he said.

“Wow,” I answered. “What is involved in the competition?” Turns out it is a lot. Austin won a state competition and then competed nationally. Very impressive.

I had to fight not continuing to work myself as I watched Austin trim bushes. He did a masterful job—Picasso-like. Another guy in the group, Ryan, used a power trimmer. He wielded it like a Samurai.

Both guys reminded me that trimming is a crucial job for gardeners. It enables plants and bushes and trees to grow and enhances the overall beauty of a yard and landscape.

It reminds me of Jesus’ words in John 15. I won’t quote exactly. But the Gardener prunes his vines so that they could become even more fruitful. It is painful. We all know this, right.

I think this is an aspect of God’s loving and disciplining care for his vines, and thus, it fits right into the discussion in Hebrews 11. Notice these words:

"So don’t sit around on your hands! No more dragging your feet! Clear the path for long-distance runners so no one will trip and fall, so no one will step in a hole and sprain an ankle. Help each other out. And run for it!" (Hebrews 12:12, 13 MSG)

In light of the Lord’s work in His garden, we need to be even more diligent to forge ahead.

I’ve never thought of this before but I think this is an exhortation to the church—to clear the path so that runners can run unimpeded.

Unfortunately, the church is so often like an old country or mountain road—it has so many potholes in it you can’t even drive down it with an SUV. Not good.

Lord, I gladly embrace your trimming work. I know you are doing it in the church I serve. Clear out all the dead underbrush and get us back to a point where we are a level path. I know I am mixing metaphors here. I hope you hear my heart, Lord. I know you do. Amen.
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Not So Subtle Reminder--OUCH!

Not So Subtle Reminder

We started a study on prayer yesterday in Sunday school. Jeremy, our youth pastor, is leading it. The plan is for him to teach for about a half an hour; then, we divide up into our typical classes for discussion. The Youth have joined the adults in this study for the summer.

Yesterday, as he started, Jeremy said, “The choice of this topic and the way we are doing it is no accident or off-hand decision. We are doing this because our church is not doing well. We may not like to hear that, but it is true.” I’m paraphrasing a bit, but that is the gist of what he said.

He is right on target.

I was talking about it with Pastor Phil a little later on in the morning as we had pulled aside to talk about the service and to pray together.

Why is it that it that we only get interested or motivated to pray when there is a crisis? Both Phil and I concurred.

But back to the study on prayer, as Jeremy continued to teach, it was clear that his point was exactly the opposite of what I just stated. Prayer is a natural response to the character of God! It SHOULD be as fluid as a baby making sounds and eventually learning to speak. It is human nature to communicate.

Likewise, as believers, we should not have to be arm-twisted to pray! It should be a NATURAL response out of our new life and walk with God, just as it was for the Son of God and just because He is right now interceding for us at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jeremy reminded us of this yesterday. I hope people heard. I hope I did.

As the morning progressed, Phil preached a sermon on prayer from Colossians 1:9-14. He did an excellent job of explaining and applying the text. This passage is one of Paul’s famous prayers that appear in his epistles. Phil asserted that we can learn from Paul’s prayers.

Here is what I learn: I have flagged in the discipline of prayer in my daily life, and it happened shortly after I was diagnosed with cancer.

Back in the summer of 2010, I started to write this blog. It tended to consume a lot of time in the morning. As a result, my communion with the Lord shrunk a bit, but I made up for it because I often took time to pray during the day as I sat on this couch or on our back porch trying to recover from chemotherapy. I really didn’t feel like doing anything else, but I didn’t want to watch television or just vegetate (I am good at it). I felt that I could redeem the time by praying and taking a long, leisurely approach to it.

But as I got more and more back into the work mode, those lengthy talks with Jesus tended to diminish and with them the prayer life also.

As Phil preached yesterday, the Holy Spirit hit me over the head with a 2X4. Even to the point where I feel that I must modify my time in the morning to spend more time with Jesus.

I need to intercede more. That is a definite fact. However, my soul is thirsty for more communion time with Jesus—just spending time with him in undistracted fashion. THAT is worth getting up at 3:00 to accomplish.

Back to yesterday, it is difficult to get “hit over the head,” but it is necessary. The writer to Hebrews explains:

“This trouble you’re in isn’t punishment; it’s training, the normal experience of children. Only irresponsible parents leave children to fend for themselves. Would you prefer an irresponsible God? We respect our own parents for training and not spoiling us, so why not embrace God’s training so we can truly live? While we were children, our parents did what seemed best to them. But God is doing what is best for us, training us to live God’s holy best. At the time, discipline isn’t much fun. It always feels like it’s going against the grain. Later, of course, it pays off handsomely, for it’s the well-trained who find themselves mature in their relationship with God" (Hebrews 12:7-11, MSG).

Putting this together: the fact that prayer is our natural response as believers to the character of God patently does NOT mean that it does not require discipline! This is a fallacy. It is one of the most difficult things we do. It definitely feels like it’s going “against the grain.” Satan sees to it.

But here is another thing I have learned in my walk with the Lord: if Satan does not want it, then it must be something I MUST do.

Lord, thank you for the not so subtle reminder yesterday. I got spanked. It hurts but I needed it. In fact, I crave it. Thank you loving me enough to discipline and train me. Gotta go pray NOW. Amen.
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A Stark Contrast

A Stark Contrast

Well, we had an encouraging first day with the group from Oklahoma. As we all stood in the parking lot getting ready to go out, we divided things up this way: I took Pastor Phil, his wife Sharon, and Ryan, “the driver.” We headed east to the Fox Run neighborhood.

Calla took Austin, the youth pastor, and Chloe, Amy, and Dakota (all students) to go to two parks in our community.

Back to my group, when we stopped in Fox Run, I sent Phil and Sharon one way while Ryan and I went another.

As we were shuffling along, Ryan said, “Well, I guess I need to tell you that I am very uncomfortable with this.”

“I hear you, Ryan,” I replied. “I’ve just done it a lot. You would be more comfortable if you did it more, but it is okay. Just glad to have you along.” I understand his sentiments exactly. I can relate.

I think I almost fainted the first time I did it as a child. Brother Herb sent us out into the neighborhood immediately around University Hills Baptist Church. My memory is a little hazy. I was about nine or ten (maybe a little older). I don’t know if I was with anyone or not. Doesn’t this sound crazy? In retrospect, it is as we think about things today. We would never dream of sending a child out by himself or herself.

I’m sure someone—my mom or someone else was around—but we took the Gospel of John out to give to people. That was my first experience.

Since then, over the years, at Calvary of Englewood, in Aurora for summer missions one summer, in Morrison another summer, in Fort Worth at Travis Avenue, and finally in Northglenn—I have done a lot of door to door work.

To be honest, I love it.

Here is what I have learned: if you are polite, people will be polite in return even if they don’t want to talk with you or have anything to do with you.

We walked along, putting fliers in the doors of homes where it was obvious that children lived there. We prayed as well, lifting up homes and streets as we meandered along.

But at one point in the morning, I noticed some couples walking down the street. There were actually three couples—the men had ties on and the women were dressed up.

On some of the homes where we put fliers in the door, I noticed that some already had a flier.

At one point in the morning, we almost crossed paths. I told Ryan to stop and actually headed toward the last of the three couples as they walked down the street. After a few steps I stopped, “This is not why we are out here. I just need to get on with the work.” Ryan and I headed on—two guys in shorts versus three couples in their “Sunday best.”

This is one of the biggest motivators for me. This is one of the reasons I think it is important to continue to knock on doors. We don’t do it enough. It is because the Jehovah Witnesses and the Mormons continue to do it.

I honestly can make a good case for not doing it, to be honest. It doesn’t “seem” as if we are making any impact, but I felt the smile of God as we walked along. I’m glad we were out there too.

Why should we be intimidated? Why should we take a back seat? Why should our community only be exposed to cults?

We had some good conversations. In fact, in one area, we met a family that actually did come to First Southern at one point. It was great to see them again.

But back to the point—isn’t it about continuing on, even when, especially when we don’t see “results”? I’m not talking about being ineffective; we do have to use our brains; but who measures effectiveness? Who sees what is REALLY going on?

I just want to be obedient. It is not easy, but has it ever been? Come on!

But we are in good company.

"Do you see what this means—all these pioneers who blazed the way, all these veterans cheering us on? It means we’d better get on with it. Strip down, start running—and never quit! No extra spiritual fat, no parasitic sins. Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in” (Hebrews 12:1-2a, MSG).

Indeed, I may have lost an ounce or two yesterday walking around, but this is an exhortation to all of us not to let anything slow us down—“no spiritual fat or parasitic sins.”

Lord, thank you for yesterday. I lift up those three couples, who are fervent and zealous to walk the streets, but they are deceived. They do not know the truth. We know it. Help us to keep on keeping on sharing it.

I pray for Pastor Phil as he preaches on Father’s Day today. Help us to have a good day as we spend some time this afternoon preparing for the Sports Camp this week.

Thanks for my dad. He has been with You, Lord, for almost forty-one years—way longer than I knew him, but we have eternity to catch up! Amen.
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Marginalized or NOT

Again, the graphic language of the Message Version strikes a cord with me today. I have to be careful because I have been “chasing a rabbit” a little bit this morning.

But this is what I love about reading the Word—one thing leads to another and to another. And as always, God’s timing is perfect.

Let me try to pull this together this morning. Here are the verses I read in Hebrews 11:

"I could go on and on, but I’ve run out of time. There are so many more—Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, the prophets. . . . Through acts of faith, they toppled kingdoms, made justice work, took the promises for themselves. They were protected from lions, fires, and sword thrusts, turned disadvantage to advantage, won battles, routed alien armies. Women received their loved ones back from the dead. There were those who, under torture, refused to give in and go free, preferring something better: resurrection. Others braved abuse and whips, and, yes, chains and dungeons. We have stories of those who were stoned, sawed in two, murdered in cold blood; stories of vagrants wandering the earth in animal skins, homeless, friendless, powerless—the world didn’t deserve them!—making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world" (Hebrews 11:32-38 MSG).

This list is daunting! Look at all the pain and suffering! Whenever I start to feel sorry for myself, I need to come back to this list.

The one that gets me the most, ALWAYS, is “sawed in two.” Oh, Lord, I can’t imagine this. I can’t imagine how the families of those who heard that their loved ones were martyred in this way DEALT with this—thinking of the excruciating pain of dying in this way.

I was visiting with a sister in the Lord yesterday. She told me that her husband is dealing with excruciating pain, and I can’t imagine. Believe me. He is no wimp—as far from it as any guy I have ever known. And it is hard on him, for sure. But it is a burden for family members to see someone they love in a lot of pain.

Anyway, I make my point … this list of suffering is overwhelming. But the final phrase is the one for the day: “making their way as best they could on the cruel edges of the world.” What a phrase!

This is exactly how our world wants to make us feel. This is exactly how the world wants to treat Christians—push them aside, treat them badly, look them up in prisons, ignore them, et cetera. The list goes on and on.

And, I will have to say that many of us FEEL as if we are on the cruel edges. We feel MARGINALIZED.

I looked this word up in the dictionary this morning. It means, “to put or keep someone in a powerless or unimportant position within a society or a group.”

Wow. Yes. Again, that is what the world wants, and the reason for this is that the world hates Jesus. Remember what our Lord said? I will not quote exactly here. “The world will hate you because it hates me.” They don’t want Jesus. They don’t want to hear about him. They do not come to the light “lest their deeds be reproved” to quote the rather archaic language of the KJV (but I love it).

The truth is exactly the opposite, of course. I thought of Peterson’s translation of Ephesians 1:23 (the exact verse delineations are not clear in his translation, as you know): “At the center of all this, Christ rules the church. The church, you see, is not peripheral to the world; the world is peripheral to the church. The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence.”

This is such a relevant word for today.

The group from Oklahoma made it to town safely last night. Pastor Phil and I didn’t get to converse because they were busy getting settled and were worn out, I am sure, after the long drive.

But the plan for today is that we are going to spend some time in the community publicizing the Sports Camp for next week. We are going to do SOME neighborhood work—putting fliers on doors. But the bulk of our time today will be spent handing people a flier and hoping to engage them in conversation.

We are going to the King Soopers’ grocery store up the street. Calla’s husband John is a manager of a King Soopers. He told us that we are free to hand out publicity to store customers as they leave for fifteen minutes! Okay, now, I didn’t know that. But I am thankful for this brief window of opportunity today. We will take it.

We are also going to a neighborhood swimming pool right across the street from the church and to two parks in our community. We will see what happens.

We will find a lot of busy and preoccupied people, I am sure. The temptation in all of this will be to feel marginalized. I doubt many will want to talk with us. “Oh, there are those Christians again. Get away from me. Don’t bother me in my busy life here at the pool or the park.”

The truth is: God does want to bother people (I’m not talking about being annoying or obnoxious or rude or pushy). And He wants to use us. AND, He is not peripheral. He is crucial. And because of who Jesus is, neither is the church, no matter how we are treated today.

We will see.

Lord, give us boldness today to be your ambassadors and to share Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit if you give us opportunity. Thank you for giving this group of seven folks from Claremore a safe trip. We are available to you today. Amen.
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Hard Life vs Soft Life

Hard Life vs. Soft Life

The faith life of Moses garners a lot of attention in the Hall of Fame Faith chapter. I love Peterson’s translation, one phrase in particular:

"By faith, Moses, when grown, refused the privileges of the Egyptian royal house. He chose a hard life with God’s people rather than an opportunistic soft life of sin with the oppressors. He valued suffering in the Messiah’s camp far greater than Egyptian wealth because he was looking ahead, anticipating the payoff. By an act of faith, he turned his heel on Egypt, indifferent to the king’s blind rage. He had his eye on the One no eye can see, and kept right on going. By an act of faith, he kept the Passover Feast and sprinkled Passover blood on each house so that the destroyer of the firstborn wouldn’t touch them" (Hebrews 11:24-28 MSG).

Moses chose “a hard life with God’s people rather than an opportunistic soft life of sin with the oppressors.” Wow. That pretty much sums it up.

As I read that this morning, two incidents came to mind.

First, on the trip to India (and I need to check with Pam and Nancy on this one), someone (not me) was visiting with one of the young on-fire-for-Jesus nationals that we met. His name is L—an outstanding young man. At some point, someone said, “Hey L, why don’t you come to the United States to share Christ?” I think the person was evening urging him to MOVE there.

L was quick to respond, “Oh, no, this is where God has me. I don’t think I could serve effectively there. It is too easy.”

He readily recognized the role of persecution in his zeal and service for the Lord. The Lord saved him out of Islam, and of course, when he got saved and started living for the Lord, his family disowned him.

Please pray for L as he continues to minister in a slum in Kolkata. I think back on my visit there … breaks my heart.

Second, I received the news the other day that Miriam Ibrahim, the young pregnant woman in the Sudan who dared to marry a Christian, had her baby. The government is giving her some time to wean her child before they hang her!

Apparently, her health is not that good. She and her one-year old child are not well. Both have been imprisoned. I wonder what will happen to the baby and this child if Miriam is executed. Please read this story in the following link:

www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2014/05/17/in-sudan-a-pregnant-woman-may-be-hanged-for-marrying-a-christian.html

As I sit here on my comfortable couch, typing words on a fancy computer, this young wife is facing death …

I was visiting with some folks and discussing the state of the American church. One of my friends asked, “What do you think is going to turn things around and get people fired up? We are all so apathetic.”

My answer, “Persecution.”

But Moses CHOOSE the hard life. It was a fundamental choice of faith. His choice put him in a small community. The easy life of sin will give you a lot of friends.

Lord, I confess that I often choose the easy life over the hard life. I lift up L and Miriam and her family. They made the right choice. Please deliver her from death so that she can be a mother to her children. Amen.
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God Can Do Anything

Please pray for my mom and sister. Both of them have not been feeling well the past few days, Marilyn in particular. She is not sure what is going on. I’ve urged her to go to the doctor. So far, she has not felt that it was necessary.

She has a lot on her plate with taking care of both of us in addition to staying on top with the demands of her business.

As for me, I’ve been busying finalizing plans for this group from Claremore, Oklahoma. They will be arriving on Friday night, staying out in Lakewood, in some dormitory space at Colorado Christian University.

On Saturday, we will be knocking on doors and handing out publicity for the Sports Camp.

On Sunday, they will join us in Sunday school and worship. Pastor Phil will be preaching. I told him that I thought it was high time that an actual father preach the Father’s Day sermon! We laughed about it. How about that?

After the service, we are going to have a fund-raising meal for the kids in the New Hope School in Uddyan Pally—the slum near New Town, a suburb of Kolkata. We hope to raise about $500.00 to send to them. Pastor R has told us that he can feed 100 children at the school for $16.00 per day.

My prayer is that this would become an on-going effort for us as people give to help these children. Another brother in our church, Dean, is going to put on a concert in July to raise some money as well. We will see what happens.

On Monday, the Sports Camp begins. It will occur each day from 8:30 to Noon. I heard Calla tell someone last night that so far, we have 22 children signed up. Praise God! I’m looking forward to ministering to the boys and girls.

After lunch, in the afternoon, we have several appointments for service projects in the community. We worked through the Senior Hub to find people who need help with their yard work. So, each afternoon, we will be going to help one or more senior adults in the community. I pray that the Lord will use this to open up further opportunities for ministry.

These community projects will occur Monday through Wednesday. We are giving the group from Oklahoma Thursday afternoon off. I know. Aren’t we generous? Ha.

We are trusting God for this whole week. I’m excited to see how he is going to use us.

Speaking of trusting God, is there a greater example in scripture about what the life of faith is all about than Abraham?

I don’t know of a more poignant story in the entire Bible than the incident in Genesis 22. After waiting 25 years for Isaac and then spending 40 years with him (many scholars contend that Isaac was not a boy in the story; he was 40!), God tells him to sacrifice his one and only son. I’m not a parent, but I can’t imagine anything more difficult. Can you?

Abraham just plodded down the path. He was relentless as he led his son up the mountain. The young man even asked, “We’ve got all the necessary supplies for a sacrifice, but where is the offering?” Abraham’s succinct and awesome answer was, “Jehovah Jireh, son, the Lord will see to it.”

Isaac exercised faith as well. Think about it. He lied on top of the altar as his dad raised the knife. What would you have thought? God stopped him and showed him a ram caught in the bush. The animal not his son was the sacrifice. But the ram in the thicket is not the point of the story. The point is: Jehovah Jireh.

I think this OT name for God often gets mistranslated, as “the Lord will provide.” That is not entirely accurate. This story is not about the Lord providing a sacrifice in place of Isaac.

The more accurate meaning of Jehovah Jireh is “the Lord will see.” I think the point of the story is: the Lord will see if we are faithful.

In Abraham’s situation, he just kept focuses on the Lord even in the middle of this rather outlandish and scandalous command. The Hebrews passage gives us his thought processes. Abraham believed in the resurrection way before there ever was one!

"By faith, Abraham, at the time of testing, offered Isaac back to God. Acting in faith, he was as ready to return the promised son, his only son, as he had been to receive him—and this after he had already been told, ‘Your descendants shall come from Isaac.’ Abraham figured that if God wanted to, he could raise the dead. In a sense, that’s what happened when he received Isaac back, alive from off the altar" (Hebrews 11:17-19 MSG).

He just believed that God could do anything. Do I?

Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief. Amen.

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"Reformed Theology" and Heaven Country

“Reformed Theology” and Heaven Country

I was visiting with Jeremy and Calla about this in staff meeting yesterday and a little more with Jeremy after the meeting.

More and more in SBC life, people are claiming to be “reformed” in their theology. Some very prominent leaders in our denomination embrace this moniker—Al Mohler—president of Southern Seminary comes to mind.

This phrase “reformed” or “reform theology” has become a buzzword of sorts. Many claim this moniker. I’m not so sure …

A couple of things: our history as Baptists aligns us with the “radical reform” movement that followed after Luther and Calvin and Zwingli. It had to do with the Lord’s Supper and Baptism, primarily (as I understand it). The reformers held views of those two ordinances that were not all that different from those of Catholics, but the radical reformers carried the ball even farther. They did not believe that the juice and bread were actually Jesus in any way and they did not believe in baptizing infants. These are rather large issues, I believe.

I need to do further study, but I wonder if there were other substantive doctrinal differences? My sense is that there were.

My point in all of this is: our theological heritage as Baptists cannot technically be called “reform,” although Baptists have held many theological perspectives that align with them. This is neither here nor there, but this is my understanding.

Right now, I would have to say that this is where I stand. I’m certainly no expert but I would say that I espouse many aspects of “reformed theology.” But there are some specifics that I just cannot embrace such as “limited atonement” and what some call “double predestination.”

I believe that Christ died for the sins of the whole world, whether or not everyone in the world receives by grace through faith the gift of that sacrifice. I believe that scripture clearly teaches this in several places, such as I John 2:1-2.

In addition, I believe that predestination is a Christian doctrine. Romans 8 reminds us that we are predestined to become conformed to the image of Christ. I do not believe that the Bible uses the concept of predestination to refer to unbelievers. In other words, it does not say that folks who do not know Jesus are predestined to hell and believers are predestined to heaven.

However, when someone gets saved, he or she is indeed predestined to heaven. The passage I focused on in Hebrews makes this clear:


"Each one of these people of faith died not yet having in hand what was promised, but still believing. How did they do it? They saw it way off in the distance, waved their greeting, and accepted the fact that they were transients in this world. People who live this way make it plain that they are looking for their true home. If they were homesick for the old country, they could have gone back any time they wanted. But they were after a far better country than that— heaven country. You can see why God is so proud of them, and has a City waiting for them" (Hebrews 11:13-16 MSG).

This passage has always intrigued me. “They did not receive what was promised, but they welcomed it from afar.” This is my paraphrase of the first verse that I cited from Peterson above. What does that mean exactly? Not totally sure.

But at this point, I would contend that this life is not the end-all, be-all. It is only preparatory for our future. These seventy years or so are a drop in the bucket compared to eternity.

I believe that when we as believers get there, we will be able to view human history from beginning to end, and we will see how God’s plan, including election and predestination, has unfolded “from the foundation of the earth.” And we will be able, from that perspective, to figure everything out—in Heaven Country.

In the meantime, I’m going to do more study about “reformed theology,” and I am going to start with John Calvin himself, but does anyone have any other reading recommendations? Please let me know.

Father, I affirm today that no one is saved unless you do it. Thank you for saving me. I know we won’t be able totally to “nail down every board” until we get to heaven, but this is no excuse for not studying and preparing and sharing in the here and now. Amen.
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City Life and Lost People--Tons of Them

Late yesterday afternoon, I headed north on I-25 toward downtown, exited on Speer, turned left on Wewatta (weird name), jogged over to 15th, and turned left down an alley. My friend Jim’s business is located at the corner of 15th and Wazee (another weird name) in an area of Denver called LoDo.

Every time I go down there, I think of what it used to be, not that long ago. It was a run-down section of town, and believe me, you did not want to go there. There was no reason. It wasn’t safe. It was, to coin a biblical phrase, “the haunt of jackals.” The modern “jackals” were homeless people who roamed the streets.

I have a soft place in my heart for people who are living on the streets, but the reputation of that part of town was not good.

Anyway, build Coors Field down there almost fifteen years ago and voila—it is now completely, radically different.

I parked my truck in a garage behind Jim’s business and after emerging from the “catacombs” I walked around to go in his store for a few minutes. He was with a customer, but soon, the man left, and it was time for us to go.

I said, “Your car or mine?” He replied, “We aren’t taking a car. We are just going to walk.” Oh, yeah, right. We went out the front door and headed up the street. I love LoDo on a beautiful summer night. This formerly “dead and dangerous” part of town now has multiple bars and restaurants as well as dozens of upscale apartments and condo. It is now a “cool” part of town in which to live.

The closer we go to the ballpark, the more people we found just out—walking around (many of whom weren’t headed to the game as we were) and hanging out.

Eventually, after a rather leisurely walk, we entered the main entrance to Coors Field and found our seats—right behind home plate on the lower level. Jim has another business owner friend in LoDo with whom he trades tickets.

After all the rain and relatively cold weather we have had the past few days, it was exhilarating to enjoy a beautiful summer night in Colorado.

I’m always surprised at the number of people who actually go to Rockies’ games. I’m sorry to put it that way. I’m a big fan, but I have been fighting apathy toward the team as we once again take our typical June swoon and plummet in the standings. I fear we are headed for our customary spot at the bottom of the division. I’m sorry that sounds so cynical …

I do not think I am alone in this feeling. Many at the game, including my friend, share this lack of optimism, but the team and the game are secondary. I think many people go to Rockies’ games for the experience, to drink beer and hang out with their friends. In spite of how badly the home team is playing (they lost to the Braves 3-1 last night), it is a festive atmosphere.

However, I could not but help feel an ever-increasing burden as I sat there and looked at the crowds, the teaming masses of people at a Major League Baseball game on a summer night, “Look at all these lost people. How on earth can the church make a difference?”

My burden for the church seemed to increase by the moment. Sunday, we get rained out in our meager effort to have some conversations with a few people in a couple of local parks, but even if we could have done it, what kind of impact could we make?

I was in the heart of the city doing a very Denver-like thing, and I enjoyed it. Don’t get me wrong, but my burden for this lost town intensified as I thought about the church in this sea of lostness—play on words intentional.

I’m sure there were some Christians there, of course, my pastor friend George was probably one of them. But still …

I can really relate to Noah. The writer to Hebrews mentions him in the Hall of Fame Faith chapter. But think about it: God told him to build a great big boat on dry land, every nail he hammered met by derision and ridicule. One man and his family alone in the same sea of lostness.

"By faith, Noah built a ship in the middle of dry land. He was warned about something he couldn’t see, and acted on what he was told. The result? His family was saved. His act of faith drew a sharp line between the evil of the unbelieving world and the rightness of the believing world. As a result, Noah became intimate with God" (Hebrews 11:7 MSG).

Here is the statement in the text that captures my attention: “his faith drew a sharp line between the evil of the unbelieving world and the rightness of the believing world.” That is how stark the difference is.

Please understand: I’m not saying that it is a sin to go to a Rockies’ game, but being a Christian and trusting God will never, I mean NEVER, be something that crowds of people will do.

Like Noah, we are in the minority, for sure, but we are on the right side. As everyone laughed and frolicked and drank beer last night, I wonder if they realize the judgment storm that is on the way?

Lord, like Noah, I choose to continue to put my trust in You and to believe in You in spite of the fact that we are outnumbered. Help me, help us, not to be overwhelmed but to be bold to share the Good News of the gospel. Use us, Lord, to make an impact in this lost city. Amen.
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Sharing the Gospel and God's Sovereignty

Maybe I have my conversation with Pastor Luke last week still too much on my mind … but it influenced a lot of what I heard yesterday.

First of all, let me back up a moment. Ken and his wife Glennes did a great job. They are two very humble servants.

In the Sunday school hour yesterday, Ken handed each of us a plastic bag full of sharing the gospel tools. Many of them were tracts.

He focused on one called, “Steps to Peace with God.” The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association uses it. Ken made some points about explaining sin to people that I thought were excellent. I will come back to that in a moment.

After this explanation, he and Glennes handed out another tool—Evangecube. I have actually used this tool the last time we had Vacation Bible School.

In the course of the training, it dawned on me (I’m rather slow on the uptake), “Someone had to buy these materials.” When the study concluded, I asked Ken and Glennes, “Who bought all these tracts and materials?” They replied, “We did. We feel that this is part of our ministry.”

Knowledge of this fact impacted me greatly. Here are two humble servants of God seeking to provide resources for us to share the gospel. I appreciate this greatly and hope we can continue to support them in their work.

Early in the worship service, as I introduced Ken and Glennes to the church, I felt compelled to read a passage out of Ephesians 4: “And he gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Ephesians 4:11-12, NASB). I thought of this verse the other day. It has dawned on me that the role of evangelists in the church is not to be some “hired gun” we bring in to zap lost people with his charisma and flashy, sugar-stick sermons, but his role is to equip the saints so THEY can share the gospel.

I pray that this happens, however the Lord wants to use us. I say that because yesterday, the sovereignty of God came to the fore in my mind and heart, first of all and in our planned schedule second.

We had a snack lunch and afterwards, our plan was to go out and share at a couple of parks. Well, the long and short of it is that the weather did not allow us to do it. It was rainy and threatening with thunder and lightning and even tornado warnings.

So, we did plan B (which was God’s plan A). I divided people up into groups and we did prayer drives in the community.

The lesson is: God is sovereign over this whole thing but especially in evangelism.

As Ken was sharing, I was first of all very convicted. It has been so long since I have been THERE when God saved someone. Notice how I said it.

Please don’t hear this as any criticism of what Ken shared. It is not. But I am becoming more resistant to the phrase “leading someone to faith in Christ.” I know that the Lord uses us. We have a message to share. Romans 10 reminds us, “How can they hear without a preacher?” He uses us, no question about it.

But I guess what I am saying is that I am struggling a bit with what our role as human is. I honestly think we put too much emphasis on what we do and say. I’m not saying that we compromise the gospel or soft-pedal anything.

In fact, I think we need to return to the methodology of the preachers in the Evangelical Revival and the Great Awakening—Whitfield, Edwards, and Wesley. They preached Law. They upheld God’s standards.

Ken mentioned this yesterday. He said, “We need to point to the Ten Commandments and show people how they have fallen short.” I like this.

But back to Whitfield, Edwards, and Wesley, they upheld God’s standards clearly showing people how they fall short. THEN, they preached to gospel. After this, like Peter at Pentecost, they called people to repent and believe but only after they demonstrated conviction and cried out, “What must we do?”

Someone who is reading this might say, “So, John, what are you saying? Are you trying to say that we should not encourage someone to come to Jesus unless we see visible, tangible evidences of conviction?” Well, I know this gets kind of dicey at that point, but I do know this: salvation is not some sales transaction where I convince someone to purchase a product.

God is the one who saves; I can’t “save” anyone. I can just share.

Again, I say, I was so convicted yesterday. I remember a young man I “led” to Jesus. I think he just gave in to get me off his back. He “prayed a prayer” and I left his house, never to see him ever again.

There is something off there …

We tend to focus too much on what we do and say and too little on what God does and simply trusting Him, not only with our efforts to share, but also in conversion.

The writer to Hebrews reinforces this point. All my life I have heard explanations as to why God accepted Abel’s offering and not Cain’s. Hebrews tells us and Peterson brings this out:

"By an act of faith, Abel brought a better sacrifice to God than Cain. It was what he believed, not what he brought, that made the difference. That’s what God noticed and approved as righteous. After all these centuries, that belief continues to catch our notice" (Hebrews 11:4 MSG).

Lord, thank you so much for the challenge Ken and Glennes brought us yesterday. Give them a safe trip as they head to Nevada to minister to a family friend who is very ill. Bless their ministry of equipping churches to share.

Lord, I am really in a quandary. I know I might suffer “paralysis of analysis.” Give me boldness today. Use me in someone’s life as You lead him or her to yourself. Give our church a burden for this. Thank you for demonstrating your sovereignty yesterday. You are in charge of the weather, our lives, and salvation. Amen.
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Ken and Glennes

Late yesterday afternoon, I drove up to Northglenn to spend some time with Ken and his wife Glennes.

Let me back up a second to give you some background. I’m going to share this with the church today.

A few months ago, the team leader for our association—Bob—showed up at First Southern with Randy (a Director of Missions from Oklahoma) and several pastors. It was a Wednesday afternoon.

They visited with me about the church and what I thought we needed. At one point, I said, “Well, guys. We aren’t reaching people as we should.”

Randy said, “John, I know of a guy who has worked with churches in your situation. He is a huge encourager. His name is Ken.” Randy gave me Ken’s number. Ken and I have been dialoguing for a few months. He is a wonderful and humble brother.

A few years ago, he retired from his work as the principal of a tech school. He asked the Lord what He wanted him to do. The Lord led him into evangelistic work. He has traveled all over—from Washington to Arizona to Louisiana. He and his wife served as disaster relief chaplains in the aftermath of Katrina and the devastating flood we had here last year.

When I use the word “evangelist,” there is certainly a stereotype—some kind of “hired gun” churches call to come and preach and whip things up.

Ken could not be more opposite than that. We talked about “the gift of evangelism.” I think sometimes that whole concept gets overplayed a bit. We both discussed the fact that for many, it becomes a cop-out. “Well, I don’t have the gift of evangelism so I am not going to tell anyone about Jesus.” This is bogus.

Ken simply says, “My wife and I do evangelistic work. We aren’t ‘special.’ We are just serving the Lord.”

He and his wife are a breath of fresh air, to be honest. I’m thankful for both of them. Ken is going to teach the adults this morning and preach in the service. Then, after lunch, we are going out to a couple of parks to share, if the weather permits. I say that because yesterday was rather rainy and a little cooler than the past few days. The forecast for today is the same. Whatever … the Lord is in charge of the weather.

Please pray for Ken. Recently, he fell off a ladder and injured both wrists. He has been struggling with that.

I enjoyed my time with them last night. It was encouraging, just as the passage for today was.

There are solemn warnings in this book. The writer tells the consequences of turning away from God. Like those of chapter six, the warnings in chapter ten almost appear as if the writer is talking about the fact that one can lose his/her salvation. I don’t believe this is teaching, however.

I think he is giving these warnings as a segue into encouragement because he moves quickly to talk about the real experiences of the folks to whom he writes:

"Remember those early days after you first saw the light? Those were the hard times! Kicked around in public, targets of every kind of abuse—some days it was you, other days your friends. If some friends went to prison, you stuck by them. If some enemies broke in and seized your goods, you let them go with a smile, knowing they couldn’t touch your real treasure. Nothing they did bothered you, nothing set you back. So don’t throw it all away now. You were sure of yourselves then. It’s still a sure thing! But you need to stick it out, staying with God’s plan so you’ll be there for the promised completion. It won’t be long now, he’s on the way; he’ll show up most any minute. But anyone who is right with me thrives on loyal trust; if he cuts and runs, I won’t be very happy. But we’re not quitters who lose out. Oh, no! We’ll stay with it and survive, trusting all the way" (Hebrews 10:32-39 MSG).

These verses are a very appropriate reminder for me as we prepare to go out today. We were not promised a “rose garden.” There might be some folks in the parks who do not want to listen to what we have to say and may even get a little angry, but boo hoo. We will NOT have to deal with the types of things the writer mentions in this passage. Our “sufferings” for the gospel pale in comparison.

I also think of believers in India. I’m reminded to pray for them as well.

Lord, you said it. We aren’t quitters. You didn’t quit when it got hard. Neither will we. I pray for Ken and Glennes as they share today. We aren’t trusting THEM. We put our faith in you and continue to pray for revival. Use us to sow some seeds today. There are no magic bullets here. You are the One who saves, but thanks for using us. Amen.
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Inventive in Love

Hebrews 10:19 is an evident transition in the book. After everything that Jesus did for us in his sacrifice on the cross and in his current work as a High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, what do we do?

The Holy Spirit lists several commands in shotgun fashion. He urges us to pray, to “walk right up to God, into ‘the Holy Place” (Hebrews 10:19, MSG). Jesus did everything to make this possible through the blood and through his broken body. That’s the first thing.

Then, He adds:

"So let’s do it—full of belief, confident that we’re presentable inside and out. Let’s keep a firm grip on the promises that keep us going. He always keeps his word. Let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out, not avoiding worshiping together as some do but spurring each other on, especially as we see the big Day approaching" (Hebrews 10:22-25 MSG).

One thing that strikes me about these commands right off the bat is that they are addressed to the community. The phrase that is repeated is “let us.” What Jesus did for us on the cross and in the resurrection and through the ascension is that he created the church! He made it possible for US to come to Him in full confidence and faith.

I am reminded that one of the things that ought to keep me going is a firm grasp on God’s promises. It makes sense to pause and think, “What promise am I claiming today?” As I ask the question, 1 Thessalonians 5:24 comes to mind immediately. I’m just going to quote it from memory and from study. Here is the literal translation: “Faithful is He who calls you, He will also do.” I’m going to hang my hat on that one today.

But that is not all. The writer to the Hebrews goes on. This is the phrase that captured my attention: “let’s see how inventive we can be in encouraging love and helping out.”

Because of everything Jesus did for me, I am freed to think about ways I can encourage the body to serve. How about that?

It is going to take being “inventive” because it just seems more and more difficult to keep plugging along.

This passage and these words in particular are very relevant to the challenges we are facing in the long-term at First Southern and in the ministry tomorrow.

Here is the deal: I have invited an evangelist to come and share with us. His name is Ken. He and his wife Glennes are arriving this afternoon. He is going to speak to all of our adult Sunday school classes in the morning and then preach in the service. After a snack lunch, he is going to take several of us out to share.

As of right now, (of course this could change as the Spirit leads), the plan is to go to two local parks in our community. There should be a bunch of folks at both enjoying the beautiful summer weather. We are just going to approach them with a flier, inviting them to a sports camp and hopefully getting an opportunity to engage some people with the gospel. Who knows?

We have a few people who have committed to go. We will see who shows up.

What I have just described has to be one of the scariest things any of us ever do—going up to people we don’t know to talk. I will be the first to admit this. But as I have prayed about it, I feel very strongly that this is something we need to do and I am praying that all of us who go are confident and relaxed in the love of God.

We can be assured of this: God wants to save some people in our community. That is His business. He knows who they are. He wants to use us in the process.

This takes me back to India and the realization that we spent time in the classroom each day learning about how our SBC missionaries were sharing the gospel and discipling folks in India, but each day we went out and applied what we learned. It was scary (it always is; come on! Anyone who says they are intimidated, even a little, is a liar), especially that first day as we arrived at the train station with hordes of people (I mean hordes) going in and out. But the Lord gave us opportunities. Nancy got to speak with a lady. It was awesome. We also met a man as we rode on a crowded bus.

We will see what the Lord wants …

In the meantime, Lord, give me “inventiveness” in encouraging folks as we go tomorrow. Give Ken and Glennes a safe trip. Thank you for this brother and his ministry. Give me an opportunity to share today. Amen.
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Cave In

A great day yesterday. I want to thank all of you who sent greetings and called to acknowledge my birthday. Thanks a lot.

One of the highlights of the day was a visit with a pastor.

Let me back up a minute. A couple of weeks ago, I got a call from a pastor in Aurora. He left a message indicating that an assessor and my friend Bart had encouraged him to call me. When I use the word “assessor,” I am referring to one of the guys who came to do our Mile High Baptist Association assessment a few weeks ago. We are undergoing this process because Bob, our team leader, is retiring next month.

Anyway, out of the blue, so to speak, Luke called me. We negotiated this time to get together. I use that word because, as we finally connected, we both are extremely busy this time of the year. I said, “Well, Thursday is my birthday, and I have a visit with the Green Family, later in the morning, but I would be glad to meet with you and visit a bit. We can start our conversation and finish it another time.”

I was very impressed with Luke. He is a tall and very engaging young man. I’m impressed with his knowledge of the Word and his spiritual pilgrimage.

We finally got on the subject of outreach—the reason for our visit. He shared what was going on in his church and how the Lord is using his congregation to minister to the community.

As we visited, some lights turned on for me. It became perfectly obvious what we need to do. I’m not going to go into detail in this blog today, but I will flesh things out in the days ahead. It was difficult to think about anything else for the rest of the day.

Suffice it to say that it is the difference between an “attractional/come to us” approach over against a “missional/ministry” approach.

Over the next couple of weeks, we have several things planned that fit in the former category. We are going ahead with them, and I am excited. I really am, but I just wonder again how effective we will be …

There are so many things that Luke shared … I really appreciate this brother taking the time to visit with me. It was a huge shot in the arm.

The other thing that occurred that was a highlight of the day—after my visit with the Greens, Mother, Marilyn, and I went downtown to eat at a Brazilian restaurant. Marilyn had actually made reservations. We left a little after 4:00 PM. Do you want to know when we finally arrived—close to 6:00 PM! It took us almost two hours!

I-25 was a parking lot. We got off the highway to take a different route, and we found ourselves in parking lot #2 on Speer Boulevard. As it turns out, we later discovered that there were wrecks along both routes.

But honestly, it was absolutely the worst traffic I have ever seen in all the years I have lived here, but nothing so frustrating that a good meal at a great Brazilian restaurant won’t cure!

There are actually two awesome Brazilian “meat markets” in fairly close proximity to each other near Union Station downtown. Not the kind of places where one would eat often—for many reasons—but I love it every once in a while.

I think I need a forklift to move me around today, however. Ha.

Anyway, it was a very encouraging day. I’m so grateful to God.

Well, in the reading today, there are two very powerful reminders about the Second Coming. This is becoming a perennial “white elephant” for me as I read scripture after preaching on this subject last Sunday. Here are two verses that stand out today:

"Everyone has to die once, then face the consequences. Christ’s death was also a one-time event, but it was a sacrifice that took care of sins forever. And so, when he next appears, the outcome for those eager to greet him is, precisely, salvation" (Hebrews 9:27, 28 MSG).

For those “eager to meet Jesus,” the Second Coming will be a glorious culmination of human history, but for others … it won’t be pretty—an eternal traffic jam! Oops. Where did I get that analogy? I wonder …

"Every priest goes to work at the altar each day, offers the same old sacrifices year in, year out, and never makes a dent in the sin problem. As a priest, Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! Then he sat down right beside God and waited for his enemies to cave in” (Hebrews 10:11-13, MSG).

What is Jesus doing right now, besides performing his work of being our High Priest? He is waiting for absolutely every enemy to cave in.

I’m emboldened this morning that there is absolutely no enemy of God and His people who will succeed, ultimately. It may seem as if they are, but just wait. One by one, Jesus will mow them down.

Have at it, and come back soon. I can hardly wait for the uncluttered streets of gold! Amen.
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39

Sunday, Calla, in front of the whole church, recognized that this week contained my birthday and joked that I was turning 39. I wish … well, truth be told, really I DON’T. I do not want to have to go through all the learning experiences I have had to go through to get back to today. I’ll just stay where I am, thank you (as if I had a choice, right? Ha).

One of my late-forties birthdays was a very emotional and very bad day—who knows why. I guess I just got depressed that I was getting older. I wish I had that day back. What a waste of time and effort! I’m ashamed of myself. Now, I’m just thankful that the Lord is giving me another day to live.

When I think about my issues (last night I didn’t sleep well at all) compared to those of others, I can’t complain. Every time I go into the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center, I see many people who are a lot sicker than I am. It breaks my heart. A vast majority of them, however, have great attitudes.

I didn’t go to the center yesterday. This is the first Wednesday in a month that I didn’t go to the doctor, but the week before, I got to see Carla, the nurse who had asked me to pray for her. She left a note on my computer case thanking me for praying.

Anyway, it is all good. I am taking some time off today. One thing that I am going to do is to visit with another pastor for a few minutes. We are going to meet at a coffee shop. He called me a couple of weeks ago to introduce himself. His name is Luke and he serves a church in Aurora. We will visit a bit and then, I think I will make a visit to the Green Family today. They need me AGAIN. Ha.

On to the passage for today, I love the language that Peterson uses in this extended contrast of the Old Testament tabernacle in the wilderness and the heavenly “tabernacle” where Jesus administers his own blood on our behalf as a Priest in the order of Melchizedek.

“Through the Spirit, Christ offered himself as an unblemished sacrifice, freeing us from all those dead-end efforts to make ourselves respectable, so that we can live all out for God” (Hebrews 9:15, MSG).

Those last four words capture my imagination today and remind me of a conversation I had with a friend yesterday. He pointed me to a sermon. David Wilkerson is the preacher. He sent me the link to this message. I will attach it to my Facebook blog today. I urge you to listen to it, if you dare.

Do you know about David Wilkerson? He is the author of the famous book,
The Cross and the Switchblade. He has served for many years as the pastor of Times Square Church. I would imagine that it is not a ministry for sissies.

Anyway, back to David Wilkerson. My friend’s pastor referenced this message in a recent sermon. As a result of the way God used these two messages in his life, he looked me in the eye and said, “John, my family and I are all in, no holes barred.” All in. What a statement about a total commitment to Jesus!

When was the last time I have ever heard anyone make such a comment? Years and years. Way too long.

I would just imagine that someone who is “all in” for Jesus doesn’t need to be begged to give or serve or witness.

Lord, thank you for another year, another day. I am blessed beyond measure. Thank you again for the gift of cancer. I deeply appreciate this disease and what you are doing in my life as a result of it. I confess the lack of anguish in my life (hear David Wilkerson) and my holding back when it comes to full commitment. Why? This question deserves prayerful examination of my heart and life today. 39 and counting. Actually 39 + 17. I’ll take that number and thank you, AGAIN, Lord. Amen.
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God in Five Easy Lessons

I love the vivid language that Peterson uses … but before I get into that, just a couple of things about “the new Bible reading plan.” I’ve noticed that several of them in YouVersion include readings each day from the Old Testament AND the New Testament AND Psalms/Proverbs. Humm. That would be radically different for me. I have never read the Bible THAT WAY. I’m not sure I like it. This is probably the reason I need to pick one of those plans and just do it (as they say at Nike).

I must admit as I have reverted back to my former tactic of inching through the Bible book by book, it just doesn’t seem the same. The Word is the Word, of course. But I sense the need to read more each day. “The Bible in 90 Days” has forever altered my approach to Quiet Time.

It is also impacting my preaching.

I am not going to be preaching for the next couple of Sundays. We have invited an evangelist from Oklahoma to come this Sunday. Next Sunday, a pastor from Oklahoma will be preaching. More about all of this later.

But I find that, as I prepare for preaching now, I’m a lot more aware of how that particular passage fits into the canon. I’m seeing the connections more readily. It is awesome.

Anyway, all of that having been said, I am going to stay in Hebrews until I finish the book and then choose one of the plans. We will see what happens.

Back to the reading for today—the contrast continues. In chapter seven, the writer compared the Levitical priesthood to that of Jesus in the order of Melchizedek. In chapter eight, he contrasts the old covenant with the new.

Peterson’s translation brought out another element of that contrast that I have never noticed before. The Old Covenant was written on tablets of stone; the new is written on the human heart.

There is another key element:

“I’ll be their God, they’ll be my people. They won’t go to school to learn about me, or buy a book called God in Five Easy Lessons. They’ll all get to know me firsthand, the little and the big, the small and the great. They’ll get to know me by being kindly forgiven, with the slate of their sins forever wiped clean. By coming up with a new plan, a new covenant between God and his people, God put the old plan on the shelf. And there it stays, gathering dust" (Hebrews 8:10b-12, GNT).

The difference is the way one knows God. The people of the Old Covenant knew him in a rote, book-learning kind of way.

I want to stop right there for a moment. There is a lot of pressure in ministry that forces you to try to package theology so that it can be easy marketed and consumed. Now, let me hasten to say that Jeremy and Calla are assisting me with the way I present my sermon series’ to others. It has been very helpful. This is NOT what I am talking about.

I’m referring to the way God is taught and presented—little quick and easy remedies to life’s problems—God in Five Easy Lessons.

This approach to theology is a violation of the essence of the New Covenant. What Jesus came to do as He dwells in us and forgives us of our sins is to forge an intimate relationship in which things are not always tied up in a nice little bow—three points and a poem—to solve all your problems. Have a nice day.

One of the references in the passage I preached last Sunday has stuck with me. “A name was written on him that no one understood except himself” (Revelation 19:12b). This is one of the key elements in the description of the Warrior Messiah who returns on a white horse. What it indicates to me is that there are some things about the Lord that are a mystery. We will never be able, even when we see Him face to face in all of His glory, to figure Jesus out TOTALLY.

Lord, I thank you that one of the main reasons You came the first time was to provide an opportunity for an intimate relationship with You. You defy all the categories we try to force on you. You are God. But I am deeply grateful today for the opportunity to get to know You better—You in all your glory and yes, MYSTERY. Amen.
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On the Job

Jackpot!

Well, let me back up first and thank all of you for your great recommendations about new Bible reading plans. Thanks a lot.

A couple of you referred me to YouVersion—the app I use every day. In the menu, they have a link for “Plans.” They list a variety of approaches to reading the Bible. Some options are daily devotionals, but there is a tab for “whole Bible” plans. There are 26 options! Hooray!

I will examine each of them and make a decision soon. In the meantime, I’m going to stick with taking my time through Hebrews. I believe this is where the Lord wants me for now.

Speaking of Hebrews, chapter seven is a lengthy diatribe on a contrast between the Levitical priesthood of the Old Testament and the superior priesthood of Melchizedek. It is amazing to me how this shadowy figure, mentioned only in passing in the Pentateuch, takes on such a large role in the New Covenant.

I have heard it explained that the book of Hebrews is just a lengthy exposition (sermon) on Psalm 110:1-4 is one of those passages. Here is a key verse in the passage:

"The LORD has sworn and will not change His mind, ‘You are a priest forever According to the order of Melchizedek’” (Psalm 110:4, NASB).

The writer picks up on this reference to assert that Jesus comes in the line of Melchizedek, and thus He is a superior priest.

Notice this statement: "Earlier there were a lot of priests, for they died and had to be replaced. But Jesus’ priesthood is permanent. He’s there from now to eternity to save everyone who comes to God through him, always on the job to speak up for them" (Hebrews 7:23-25, MSG).

How do we keep on persevering? Jesus is on the job, 24 hours a day, seven days a week!

And how this translates is that we can come to him at any time, and cry out to him, and he is there for us—sometimes, even when we don’t know it.

Yesterday was a very difficult day. I basically cratered. I can’t explain it any other way. I think I have just been emotionally “hyped” since before I left for India. There are a number of factors that contribute to that, of course, but I think the main one has been anxiety over the church. The vote last Sunday has been such a relief. I can’t begin to express it, but this emotional letdown … I could barely navigate yesterday, and I had/have a lot to do.

This was confirmed as I heard from three dear brothers. One is Mark. He and his wife live in Fort Worth, and they are dear friends. He sent me a text, indicating that they have been praying. Thank you, Mark and Sam.

Andy Sr. called me yesterday. In the course of our conversation, he said, “I have just been praying for you fairly frequently as the Lord has brought you to mind.” Thank you, brother Andy!

Finally, I had a chance to visit with Rich—a church planter friend in our city. He said, “John, at an associational meeting, I found out that your cancer has returned. Since then, we have been praying for you as a church, and I pray for you every day.” Thanks, Rich.

I know they aren’t the only ones—many of you who are reading this fit in that category. THANK YOU. I’m overwhelmed with gratitude to our Living Lord! The power of a life that has no end—that’s our Jesus!

The Lord is answering your prayers. You may not have been praying for the church specifically, but the Holy Spirit translated your love and concern.

This is all because Jesus is on the job!

Thank YOU, Jesus. I thank you that you are the one constant in all our lives as believers. As our High Priest in the order of Melchizedek, you are pleading our cause, day and night, all the time, even when we don’t think anything is going on. Especially then. Amen.
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Miracle

That word gets tossed around a lot, but I try not to do it. I think the word applies in this situation.

Last Wednesday, we had a rather long business meeting in which various opinions were expressed. There is nothing wrong with this AT ALL. We took the rather unusual course of not voting then but waiting until Sunday so that more people would have the opportunity to weigh in—without more discussion, however.

I was very concerned, not necessarily first of all about how people might vote, but about what was really going on in our fellowship. Honestly, the last thing we need right now is division.

During the announcement time, early in the service, I alluded to the proposal and made some very brief comments about it and then asked the children to hand out ballots. We used to have people vote by raising their hands. We discontinued this process a few years ago because we did not want anyone to be intimidated by others seeing which way he/she would vote.

People marked “yes” or “no” on their ballot and gave them to Ray as they came forward to give their offering. (We have a “come forward” offering; we do not pass the plates). Ray and Al then went to count the votes.

As Al came back in and walked toward me, my anxiety level accelerated greatly. It would be impossible to figure how much time I have prayed about this and agonized about where our church is. I’m not trying to pat myself on the back. That is just a fact. It goes with the gig. Sometimes, I wish I didn’t care as much.

As he handed me a piece of paper with the vote tally on it, he said, “Unanimous” and he smiled.

At that moment, it felt as if someone had removed a five-ton weight from my back. It was honestly one of the greatest moments of relief I have ever experienced in all the years I have served as pastor.

“Unanimous”—I still can’t get over it! I can’t remember the last time, IF EVER, we had a unanimous vote on anything! That is why I call this a miracle.

A few years ago, as I was discussing the whole issue of Baptist business meetings and votes with a friend, he said something like, “There are some people who would vote no if Jesus himself in the flesh made a proposal.” I laughed, to keep from crying.

For several years, on rather controversial stuff, we would receive ballots that said, “Abstain.” What the heck is that? Why bother waste the paper?

Anyway, at the end of the service, right before we departed, I shared the results and said, “We had a meeting the other night in which various opinions were expressed. All well and good, but you folks cannot ever understand how grateful to God I am for this unanimous vote. With everything that we are facing, all the enemies out there, Satan would love nothing better than to divide us. We need to resist this at all costs.” I think everyone understood and agreed. Praise God!

So, back to Hebrews. I think I am going to inch along in this book until I decide what Bible reading challenge I am going to take on next. I visited with my friend Rob about this yesterday. He made a suggestion. I asked for feedback on this on my two Facebook sites. I am curious as to what people said. I will find out, and I will continue to do research on my own.

Anyway, the writer to Hebrews uses Abraham as an example of faith. Do you realize that he is set forth as an example in two other NT books—can you name them???

Here in Hebrews, the writer lauds the perseverance of Abraham. What kept him in the belief mode for twenty-five years as he got older (and thus the impossibility of having a child became more of a reality—not too many centenarians have kids—ya think?) and as he waited on God?

“We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us, in the order of Melchizedek. We who have run for our very lives to God have every reason to grab the promised hope with both hands and never let go. It’s an unbreakable spiritual lifeline, reaching past all appearances right to the very presence of God where Jesus, running on ahead of us, has taken up his permanent post as high priest for us, in the order of Melchizedek" (Hebrews 6:18-20, MSG).

Peterson uses the term “unbreakable spiritual lifeline.” Most of the other translations translate the Greek word as “anchor.” Actually, I like both images.

Abraham persevered in hope because of an anchor in the very presence of God with a lifeline extended to him. He grabbed it and held on as the “waves” of doubt and uncertainty tended to cause him to wave. The “ground” for this anchor is Jesus who went into the presence of God and holds it secure.

Whenever I read this passage, I think of one of my favorite hymns, “In Times Like These.” “My anchor holds and grips the solid rock. His name is Jesus, yes, He’s the one.”

Lord, the analogy is not lost on me this morning. Abraham waited twenty-five years. I’ve been pastor of this congregation for almost that long. I’m still waiting on you and praying for revival just as I have all these years and before that, with my friend Dan in the early morning hours in his dorm room at Penland Hall at Baylor. Waiting but anchored. Amen.
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Stay the Course

This is kind of weird. I feel a little bit like a duck out of water. After finishing “The Bible in 90 Days,” I’m going back to pick up where I left off in my reading at the end of February. It took some doing to find out where that was. I finally did find it-- Hebrews 6:4 in the Message Version.

Again, I say—WEIRD. Not sure I can go back to my former method. It seems as if I should be reading several chapters a day rather than several verses …

I’m still searching for my next Bible challenge. I came across an interesting one the other day—a chronological reading of all the books of the Bible. It comes at the back of
How to Read the Bible Book by Book. The authors are Gordon Fee and Douglass Stuart—two scholars for whom I have a lot of respect. About this chronological listing, the authors state, “Some of this is guesswork, of course, especially in the case of the Old Testament works, since some of the books (e.g., Joel) are not easily dated” (page 443). This is very interesting, however.

The thing I don’t like about this plan is that there is no time frame associated with it. The books are simply listed, but it still might work. It is a good candidate for my next plan. I’m still on the lookout …

Anyway, back to Hebrews, I love this book. It gives a very needed perspective of the Christian life—our relationship with the Lord is a pilgrimage. We tend to emphasize the point-in-time beginning—conversion. Of course, this is very important. I don’t want to minimize it in the least, but the validation of conversion is FRUIT. It is a life that demonstrates that real change has indeed occurred.

And, if there is no evidence OR if it does not continue, then one must legitimately question the reality of the initial experience.

I can’t quite get it out of my mind. I’m not going on a witch-hunt or anything, but I wonder how many people who are prominent or vocal or come every Sunday are indeed lost.

But back to this very controversial six chapter—there are a lot of opinions about the unknown human author is saying. Of course, I do not believe that he is coming anywhere near asserting that a person who has been genuinely saved could lose his/her salvation.

Of all the “theories” out there, I believe in the “hypothetical” theory. I don’t think that is a formal name, but the writer postulates that IF someone who has been genuinely saved turns away from the Lord, then it would be impossible to turn back the clock to get them saved AGAIN.

The writer goes on to use an agricultural metaphor—a field that produces no fruit gets burned in the end. This analogy lends credence to my second choice as to what is going on. He could be talking about someone whose experience validates the fact that he/she was never saved in the first place.

But I still opt for #1, and I think the claims at the beginning of the next paragraph buttress my argument:

"I’m sure that won’t happen to you, friends. I have better things in mind for you—salvation things! God doesn’t miss anything. He knows perfectly well all the love you’ve shown him by helping needy Christians, and that you keep at it. And now I want each of you to extend that same intensity toward a full-bodied hope, and keep at it till the finish. Don’t drag your feet. Be like those who stay the course with committed faith and then get everything promised to them" (Hebrews 6:9-12, MSG). When he says, “I’m sure that won’t happen to you, friends,” he is talking about hell.

Instead, this is a plea not to give up but to stay the course all the way to the end. And IF someone is genuinely saved, he/she will persevere. If not, they will not last. It is as simple and tragic as that.

For some, the jury is still out. I know people who have dropped out of church. They never go. I wonder … and I know that some go through periods of struggle. That is not what I am talking about. I’m speaking of those who can go years and decades …

Going to church doesn’t save you, of course. But it is an indicator of someone who is saved. How can you stay out of church if you are one of God’s kids?

Oh, Lord, thank you for saving me. Going to church is hard. I will be the first to admit it. But if I don’t go, where do I go? The church, as imperfect as it is with fallible humans and more fallible pastors, is still the body of Christ.

Today is the one-year anniversary of Iglesia Bautista de Torre Fuerte—our Hispanic congregation. They are doing great! Praise God for them. Lord, I pray that you would lead them to the man you have chosen to serve this church as pastor. Amen.
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